Elizabeth Truss criticised for overruling advice over £1,400 Mayfair lunch

Foreign Secretary and South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss. - Credit: Chris Bishop

Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss has come under fire for insisting a private club owned by a Conservative donor be used to host a £1,400 lunch meeting with a foreign diplomat.

The South West Norfolk Conservative MP overruled officials who suggested a cheaper alternative to Mayfair venue 5 Hertford Street, owned by party donor Robin Birley, for the meeting with United States diplomat Katherine Tai.

According to leaked correspondence, reported by the Sunday Times, a civil servant said the club was “obviously incredibly expensive and more than I understand we’d usually expect to pay for such a venue”.

A June email said officials suggested the cheaper option of Quo Vadis in Soho, costing £1,000.

But the correspondence stated Ms Truss, now foreign secretary, and international trade secretary at the time, "explicitly asked that we book 5 Hertford Street".

It stated that she “refused to consider anywhere else” and asked that public funds should pay for the £3,000 lunch as the alternative would be "inappropriate".

Civil servants negotiated to bring the price down to £1,400 which had to be paid immediately after the meeting, so an emergency process to pay had to be used.

The Sunday Times reported that a receipt showed Ms Truss and her guests bought two bottles of gin, three £153 bottles of Pazo Barrantes Albariño white wine, and two £130 bottles of red wine, Coudoulet de Beaucastel.

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Club owner Mr Birley donated £20,000 towards prime minister Boris Johnson's leadership bid and is the half brother of environment minister Zac Goldsmith.

A spokesperson for the Department for International Trade said: "This was a diplomatic working dinner attended by the previous international trade secretary, senior UK officials, and US counterparts from our largest single trading partner."

The leaked correspondence comes at a time when Ms Truss is considered as a potential successor to Mr Johnson.

Labour MPs Angela Rayner, her party's deputy leader and shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry criticised Ms Truss.

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner answers questions from the media, after meeting with

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner in Sandiacre near Nottingham. Picture date: Wednesday April 21, 2021. - Credit: PA

Ms Rayner said it was "shameful" and that "the sheer incompetence of wasting taxpayer money is truly jarring".

Ms Truss has been contacted for comment.

Analysis

Popular with grassroots Conservatives, Elizabeth Truss has come a long way since she first won her South West Norfolk seat more than a decade ago.

She had to emerge from a bitter fight to be allowed to stand after local members realised she had had an affair with Tory MP Mark Field.

A group, dubbed the 'Turnip Taliban' by national commentators, called for her deselection as a candidate - but she was backed by a considerable 132-37 margin and took the seat.

A year later, she was in Parliament, having won the seat with a majority of 13,140. By 2019, she had almost doubled it to 26,195.

The mother-of-two became environment secretary in 2014, after a two-year stint as a junior minister for childcare and education.

Roles as justice secretary and lord chancellor followed in 2016, followed by chief secretary to the Treasury and then international trade secretary.

She is now foreign secretary and recently succeeded Lord Frost as chief Brexit negotiator, despite backing remain in the run-up to the referendum.

The timing of the leaked correspondence around the venue for her meeting with US diplomat Katherine Tai is interesting, coming as she emerges as a potential successor to prime minister Boris Johnson.

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