Truss 'overruled officials' to use Tory donor's club to meet diplomat

Liz Truss ‘overruled officials’ to demand she used millionaire Tory donor’s Mayfair club to wine and dine US diplomat with £1,400 meal… and ‘refused to consider anywhere else’

  • Liz Truss ‘explicitly asked’ to use 5 Hertford Street in Mayfair, central London
  • Club is owned by Tory donor Robin Birley and used for ‘Fizz with Liz’ meetings
  • Ms Truss used departmental funds to host US trade representative Katherine Tai
  • Hundreds of pounds were spent on wine and gin alone, lunch receipt has shown 

Liz Truss ‘overruled officials’ to demand she used a millionaire Tory donor’s Mayfair club to wine and dine a US diplomat with a £1,400 lunch.

The Foreign Secretary ‘explicitly asked’ to use 5 Hertford Street in central London, owned by aristocrat Robin Birley, before spending hundreds of pounds on gin and wine alone.

Ms Truss is said to have ‘refused to consider anywhere else’ for the lunch, describing suggestions for a cheaper and less party political option as ‘inappropriate’, reports The Sunday Times.

Hailed as London’s ‘most influential and secretive members’ club’, 5 Hertford Street is where Prince Harry and Meghan had their first date, and where Tony Blair enjoyed a drink with Rupert Murdoch’s then wife Wendy Deng. 

Its owner, Mr Birley, is the half brother of Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park and donated £20,000 towards Boris Johnson’s leadership bid. 

The venue has also been used by the Foreign Secretary, 46, to host ‘Fizz with Liz’ meetings to schmooze Tory MPs and ‘Biz for Liz’ events with potential financial backers for a leadership bid. 

In June, she requested departmental funds to host a £3,000 lunch there with Katherine Tai, Jo Biden’s trade representative, while International Trade Secretary.

Civil servants were said to be so concerned at the cost of the venue, as well as its close links to the Tory party, that they referred Ms Truss’s suggestion to the permanent secretary – the department’s most senior official.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss ‘explicitly asked’ to use 5 Hertford Street in Mayfair, owned by millionaire aristocrat Robin Birley

5 Hertford Street in Mayfair

On June 15, an official described the club as ‘obviously incredibly expensive and more than I understand we’d usually expect to pay for such a venue’.

In an email, they added: ‘SoS (Truss) is hosting Katherine Tai tomorrow for dinner. She wishes to do so in a private dining room.

‘[Her special adviser] is insisting it takes place at a private members’ club called 5 Hertford Street. She’s recommended this based on having been there before — her argument is that it’s of the appropriate size and standing.

‘To my knowledge we haven’t hosted anyone there before as a department.’

The email said official had suggested another option, Quo Vadis in Soho, which ‘costs only £1,000’. 

This was refused on behalf of Ms Truss, though, as she was ‘insisting we book 5 Hertford Street’ and Quo Vadis would be ‘inappropriate’.

The email continued: ‘Something we’ve just discovered is the owner … is Robin Birley, a donor of the PM, Conservative Party and Ukip. 

‘I understand the venue hosts party events, which is presumably how SoS and [her special adviser] know it.’

Civil servants subsequently entered negotiations with the venue regarding the price, leading to its events manager agreeing to waive hire fees and reduce the overall bill to £1,400 on the agreement it is paid immediately after the meeting.

The condition left civil servants having to scramble and use an emergency process to sanction the payment.

Another official said the payment would have to be published under transparency rules, but reassured that it could be justified because the discount represented ‘real VFM [value for money]’.

Permanent secretary John Alty said he was ‘content’ with the agreement.

Ms Truss used the venue to host a lunch with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai (pictured)

Robin Birley (pictured) is the half brother of Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park and donated £20,000 towards Boris Johnson’s leadership bid

It is understood ten people were present at the dinner, with a receipt showing Ms Truss, Ms Tai and others purchased two bottles of Tanqueray, the London dry gin, three £153 bottles of Pazo Barrantes Albarino by Marqués de Murrieta and two bottles of £130 Coudoulet de Beaucastel.

Despite regularly playing host to politicians, royals and stars of the stars of the entertainment industry, with its basement club Loulou’s having showcased the dancing styles of George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, 5 Hertford Street had losses of £236,873. 

Ms Truss leapt ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak as Tory members’ favourite to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister last week, according to a new poll.

The UK’s top diplomat and new leading Brexit negotiator leapfrogged the Chancellor in party popularity after his tax-and-spend budget in November, figures from Conservative Home suggest. 

However, Mr Johnson’s allies kicked back at Ms Truss last month over her ‘pathetic’ leadership jockeying.

A spokesman 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.’ 

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