UK MP defends Boris Johnson's ethics amid row with Cummings

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the prime minister had always “acted in the interests of this country”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives media interviews during a visit to Hartlepool United Football Club as he campaigns on behalf of Conservative Party candidate Jill Mortimer in Hartlepool, north-east England on April 23, 2021, ahead of the 2021 Hartlepool by-election to be held on May 6. / AFP / POOL / Ian Forsyth

A UK government minister defended Prime Minister Boris Johnson over increasing allegations of unethical behaviour, as his team prepares for potentially damaging claims from his former top aide.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss dismissed claims from Dominic Cummings as a “complete load of Westminster tittle-tattle” and said Mr Johnson had always “acted in the interests of this country".

Mr Cummings published a blog accusing him of seeking to halt an inquiry into who disclosed plans for November’s national lockdown, because he feared it would implicate a close friend of his fiancee.

He also claimed Mr Johnson planned to have secret donors pay for a renovation to his official Downing Street apartment, which Mr Cummings said would have been “unethical” and “foolish.”

It is a highly sensitive time for the government amid continuing rows involving lobbying by former prime minister David Cameron on behalf of Greensill Capital.

There are also disputes about private text messages between Mr Johnson and business leaders, and claims that contracts were awarded to companies during the pandemic without proper scrutiny.

His office is now preparing for more criticism from Mr Cummings when he appears at a parliamentary committee investigating the government’s handling of Covid-19 on May 26.

Any accusations from him are highly significant. He was at the heart of government after his key strategic role in Britain’s exit from the EU, which ultimately led Mr Johnson to a landslide general election win in December 2019.

Mr Cummings was the premier’s chief adviser when the pandemic hit last year.

But resigned in November after a tumultuous period in which he clashed with other officials, ripped up conventions of government, and sparked a national outcry with a 400 kilometre road trip at the height of the first lockdown.

The sleaze row could dominate the final week of campaigning before local and mayoral elections on May 6, and comes as the Conservative government tries to capitalise on giving a first coronavirus vaccine dose to more than half the population.

Ms Truss defended Mr Johnson after Mr Cummings’ claims, telling Times Radio that the inquiry into leaks over the November lockdown was continuing and no conclusions had been reached.

She said Mr Johnson had “personally” met the cost of refurbishing his apartment.

“Everything has been done under the rules,” Ms Truss told Sky News.

But she failed to answer whether Mr Johnson had asked Conservative Party donors to pay the cost.

The main opposition Labour Party is seeking to force a senior minister to the House of Commons on Monday to answer questions on the issue.

“The stench of sleaze coming from the Conservatives is overwhelming,” deputy leader Angela Rayner said.