Liz Truss has dismissed claims that she was responsible for a “staggering waste” of taxpayers’ cash after it emerged she chartered a private jet to Australia at an estimated cost of £500,000.
The Foreign Secretary argued on Thursday that the state leases a private plane “precisely so that ministers can travel” in this way, as she insisted that “every government decision is based on value for money”.
While commercial routes were available to travel to Sydney and then on to Adelaide last week, Ms Truss opted to fly on the private Government Airbus A321, which a source told the Independent would have cost half a million pounds to operate.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, also flew out to Australia last week on official business but took commercial flights, according to the Ministry of Defence.
Explaining the rationale for Ms Truss taking the charter jet, officials said it allowed the trip’s delegation to travel together and have private discussions on sensitive security matters.
They added that commercial flights were fully booked, and that using a commercial flight would have separated Ms Truss from her delegation and protection team.
The private jet also gave Ms Truss the option of returning to the UK early if needed, it is understood.
The Foreign Office said that the trip was within the rules set by the ministerial code.
Labour and Lib Dems condemn ‘staggering waste’
Opposition parties seized on the revelation, with Labour accusing the Conservatives of spending “disgusting amounts of public money on their own vanity and comfort”, while the Lib Dems branded the private jet flight a “staggering waste” of public money.
Critics drew attention to a policy paper co-written by Ms Truss in 2009, called ‘Back to Black’, in which the co-authors said all public sector workers should treat the money they spend in office “with at least the care they would give to their own”.
They added: “This change of mindset would be reflected in everyday changes such as travelling by economy rather than business class, to larger scale changes around focusing on value for money.”
British diplomats ‘always required to fly economy’
Alexandra Hall Hall, a former British ambassador who worked in Government until 2019, said that in her experience “British diplomats, no matter what their grade, Ambos [ambassadors] included, were always required to fly economy, except flights over 14 hours long, when business class was permitted”.
She added that they were also required to “take public transport to [the] airport wherever possible”.
An FCDO spokesman said it was necessary for the Foreign Secretary to travel overseas to “pursue UK interests around security, trade and technology, as she did during this visit to Australia”.
The spokesman added: “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.”