Boris Johnson faced fresh claims of nepotism last night after it was revealed that charity bosses had blocked a government bid to appoint the prime minister’s father as an “ambassador” at last year’s Cop26 climate change summit.
The wildlife charity WWF threw out a request by environment minister Zac Goldsmith, a close friend of the prime minister and his wife Carrie Johnson, to add Stanley Johnson, 81, to its team of experts at the United Nations conference.
A well-placed source told The Independent that the government was “desperate for Stanley to be able to go [to Cop26] in an official capacity”. The source said the request was turned down after a revolt by senior WWF figures, who argued it would be “totally inappropriate”.
A WWF spokesperson told The Independent: “At no point was Stanley Johnson offered a role with us at Cop26.” A senior source at the charity said: “We were approached by the environment minister to give Stanley Johnson a role.”
Lord Goldsmith told The Independent: “I don’t remember what conversations I had about Stanley before Cop26. But given his long record of working for the environment, he would have been an asset in any team.” There has been speculation recently that the prime minister enquired about securing a knighthood for his father, or that he may award him a peerage in his resignation honours list.
It was claimed last month that the prime minister had tried to obtain his wife, Carrie – who, like Mr Johnson Sr, is an environmental campaigner – a role as an “ambassador” at Cop26. Separately, cabinet secretary Simon Case has admitted enquiring about opportunities for Ms Johnson at the Earthshot Prize, an initiative run by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Asked about the plan for him to attend Cop26 with WWF, Stanley Johnson told The Independent: “This is all complete news to me. I think Zac explored opportunities for me to do things with them, but that was nothing to do with Cop26.”
Mr Johnson Sr attended Cop26 with the Conservative Environment Network.
It is not the first time that the environmental interests of the prime minister’s close family and friends have attracted controversy. Lord Goldsmith is a former trustee of the Aspinall Foundation, a wildlife charity in Kent, which hired Ms Johnson as its head of communications. His brother, Ben Goldsmith, continues to serve as a trustee.
It was revealed by The Independent in June that the Charity Commission had asked the chair of the Aspinall Foundation, casino owner Damian Aspinall, to step down following an investigation into the charity’s finances.
It came after the charity’s 2021 accounts showed it had paid more than £150,000 in “interior design services” to the chair’s wife Victoria Aspinall in 2020. The Aspinall Foundation said at the time that the fees charged by Ms Aspinall were “subject to a rigorous benchmarking exercise to ensure the foundation received value for money”.
It was also reported last year that Mr and Mrs Johnson had enjoyed a “free of charge” holiday worth £25,000 at Lord Goldsmith’s Spanish villa.
Ms Johnson’s first job with the Conservative Party was working for Lord Goldsmith in his former parliamentary seat of Richmond, Surrey. When he lost the seat in the 2019 election, Mr Johnson controversially awarded him a peerage a week later, allowing him to continue as environment minister.