Cabinet secretary Simon Case has admitted discussing opportunities for the prime minister’s wife to take up a role at a charity but denied trying to secure her a job.
Case said he had enquired about potential roles for Carrie Symonds – who became Carrie Johnson when she married the PM last year – at the Earthshot Prize, which is part of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s charity, the Royal Foundation.
"In autumn 2020 a former member of the No.10 team asked about opportunities for Carrie Johnson with environmental charities,” Case said in a letter to Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner yesterday.
“I was happy to have an informal conversation with someone involved with the Earthshot prize about what roles were available, as I would have done for anyone with relevant experience who was keen to get involved with charity work. I was informed that there was one publicly advertised role and possible volunteering opportunities.
“In keeping with the Earthshot prize’s charitable status, the publicly advertised role was not publicly funded, and any applicant would have been required to go through a full and open interview process. I am not aware of how this information was used, but, as I understand it, Mrs Johnson did not pursue any of these opportunities.”
He added that a No.10 spokesperson had stated on Boris Johnson’s behalf that the prime minister has never recommended Carrie Johnson for any role as part of the Earthshot Prize.
Carrie Johnson eventually took a job as director of communications at the Aspinall Foundation, an environmental charity.
Rayner had written to Case – who was private secretary to Prince William for almost two years before becoming No.10 permanent secretary in May 2020 and then cabinet secretary in September that year – seeking answers to several questions.
She asked whether the PM "instructed, requested or asked" Case to discuss the potential employment of Carrie Johnson with the Royal Foundation and whether the cabinet secretary would refer himself to the standards commissioner for breaches of the civil service code of conduct.
Case said he would not refer himself to standards commissioner Kathryn Stone, “because she oversees the code of conduct for parliamentarians, not civil servants” and added, “there was no improper conduct”.
Civil servants are bound by the civil service code, with breaches investigated by departments. The Civil Service Commission can investigate reports of breaches after this point, but it has no formal sanctioning powers.
A report in The Telegraph on Tuesday said Case had attempted to get Carrie Johnson a role at the charity but this was rejected due concerns it would be inappropriate for the PM’s fiancée to work with the royals.
This claim followed a report in The Times newspaper on Saturday which said Boris Johnson had attempted to secure his then-girlfriend a job at the Foreign Office in 2018, while he was foreign secretary. At the time, Johnson was still married to his second wife, Marina Wheeler.
The story was described by Carrie Johnson’s spokesperson as "an old story which is as untrue now as it was then". The Times took it down after No.10 spoke to the newspaper.
In her letter, Rayner asked for Johnson to be investigated over both claims, saying: “It is clearly inappropriate that the prime minister should be the judge and jury in his own case”.
Rayner also wrote to Jonathan Evans, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, urging him to investigate Johnson over both claims. She said this would avoid Johnson being “the judge and jury in his own case”.
The CSPL oversees the standards system as a whole and does not usually investigate individual cases – but Rayner said it was unclear who else could investigate Boris Johnson after the PM’s ethics adviser Christopher Geidt quit last week.
Since resigning, Geidt has said the PM’s reported effort to hire Carrie Johnson to the FCO role “could be ripe for investigation”.
When asked in the House of Commons on Wednesday whether he had tried to get Carrie Johnson the two roles, the PM said: “I know why the party opposite wants to talk about non-existent job …because they don’t want to talk about what is going on in the real world.”
Boris Johnson's spokesperson said the PM had "never recommended Mrs Johnson for a government role, or one as part of the Earthshot Prize", but did not deny that any conversations had taken place.