UK foreign minister defends flight to Australia that reportedly cost £500,000

Critics say Liz Truss's trip Down Under was misuse of public money

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been criticised for the cost of her charter flight to Australia on a diplomatic trip. PA.

The British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has defended chartering a private jet to Australia after reports estimated the journey would have cost taxpayers about £500,000 ($670,000).

Critics said the move was a “grotesque misuse” of public money, but Ms Truss said the government plane was available “precisely so that Government ministers can travel”.

The Independent reported the Foreign Secretary had opted for the chartered flight for her trip last week due to security concerns, although commercial services were available.

The newspaper said she had travelled on the private government Airbus A321, which a senior source told them would have cost £500,000 to operate.

“I used the government plane,” Ms Truss said on a trip to Northern Ireland. "That is why we have a government plane: to enable government ministers to conduct government business.

"And that’s what I flew to Australia in."

Pressed on whether it would have been better to have used commercial flights, she said: “Every Government decision is based on value for money.

“We have a government plane specifically so ministers, like me in my role as Foreign Secretary, can go and do the work overseas, which is ultimately delivering for the British people.”

The Foreign Office said the trip was within the rules set by the ministerial code.

Officials said using the private jet allowed the trip’s delegation to travel together and have private discussions on sensitive security matters.

They said commercial flights were fully booked, and that using a commercial flight would have separated Ms Truss from her delegation and protection team.

It also gave her the option of returning to the UK early if needed, it is understood.

Liz Truss, left, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, second left, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton pose for a photo in Sydney

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, however, said the decision to fly privately showed the public “exactly quite how little respect this Conservative government has for taxpayers’ money”.

In a policy paper called Back to Black, which Ms Truss co-wrote in 2009, she and others outlined how public-sector workers should take care with what they spend, starting by “travelling by economy rather than business class”.

The ministerial code says ministers can authorise non-scheduled flights “when a scheduled service is not available, or when it is essential to travel by air, but the requirements of official or parliamentary business or security considerations preclude the journey being made by a scheduled service”.

Chris Bryant, Labour chairman of the House of Commons committee on standards, tweeted: “For comparison, my first trip as a foreign office minister was on easyJet at 6am and we didn’t pay for speedy boarding.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “It’s necessary for the foreign secretary to travel abroad to pursue UK interests around security, trade and technology, as she did during this visit to Australia.

“Travelling this way allows ministers to have private discussions on sensitive security matters and flexibility to respond to rapidly changing global events.

“This trip used government transport and was fully within rules.”

The plane Ms Truss used for her trip was recently given a makeover, according to photographs shared online last year.

It was painted in the colours of the British flag, much like a larger private aircraft available to ministers, RAF Voyager, which in 2020 was controversially given a new paint job costing almost £1 million.

The contract for the Airbus A321 said it “must be operated in a ‘Global Britain’ livery”, with an included stipulation saying it could only be used by the government.

Updated: January 27, 2022, 11:25 PM