Boris Johnson’s adviser under fire over ‘undeclared conflicts of interest’

Boris Johnson’s adviser under fire over ‘undeclared conflicts of interest’
Life peer under scrutiny over roles in finance and arms industry and advice to dictatorship

A union is calling for Boris Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests to step down from his role as chair of a top London university over alleged undeclared conflicts of interest.

The University and College Union (UCU) is scrutinising the role of Christopher Geidt, chair of King’s College London (KCL) council.

The union is calling for KCL to suspend and investigate him over his role as chair of the international relations and corporate responsibility board at investment firm Schroders, and an advisory role at weapons firm BAE Systems from 2016 until April this year.

UCU has also called for clarity over Lord Geidt’s trip to Oman to sit on the Privy Council of former dictator Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

According to website Declassified UK, Mr Geidt made the trips in 2018 and 2019 to advise the sultan, who died last year, on economy, security, and foreign policy while sitting as a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords – and never declared his role to Parliament.

The Cabinet Office suggested to Declassified that Lord Geidt’s visits to Oman were unconnected with his membership of the Lords – but the website said that the government department did not reveal in what capacity he had made the trips.

A photo in former foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan’s memoirs In the Thick of It: The Private Diaries of a Minister shows he was on an Oman with Lord Geidt, Bank of England ex-governor Lord Mervyn King, then MI6 head Alex Younger, air chief marshal Sir Stuart Peach, and UK national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill.

UCU said Mr Geidt needs to explain his visits in light of “Oman state organs [having] multiple partnerships with the college”.

KCL’s website shows that a number of its departments have links to Oman’s government in areas relating to medical care and dentistry.

Lord Geidt, a former private secretary to the Queen, was appointed as Mr Johnson’s independent adviser in April.

He had then cleared the PM of breaking any rules over the £200,000 refurbishment of 11 Downing Street via a loan from a Tory donor.

In a letter seen by The Guardian, the UCU, which represents about 1,500 academic and staff members, called on the university to ask Mr Geidt to step aside pending an investigation into whether his interests were properly checked.

The UCU said it could be considered a potential conflict that he was an adviser to BAE Systems at the same time as the KCL endowment fund was invested in the defence company through an intermediary fund.

KCL’s interest in BAE Systems, Mr Geidt’s role as paid chair of a board at Schroders, and KCL’s endowment fund being invested in Schroders funds were only revealed though a freedom of information request, the Guardian reported.

The UCU’s letter said: “It is vital that a time of major crisis in higher education, with threats to funding cuts, a proposed 25% cut to the staff pension, the astronomical rise in student tuition fees, and an increasing divide between management and the people who make our university, that good governance is not only done in deed, but seen and sincere.

“We cannot see a prudent course of action except to suspend Geidt from his post pending a full, independent review.”

A KCL spokesperson told The Independent: These claims of conflicts of interest are simply untrue, as we have robust processes to ensure that investment management decisions are made entirely independently.

“Lord Geidt has no involvement with investment management decisions, and no influence over investment policy and strategy.

“The university does not have any investments in BAE Systems. As part of our policy all members of Council, including the Chairman, disclose their interests every year.

“We strongly reject the unfounded allegations that Lord Geidt has used his personal position at King’s for his own benefit. Lord Geidt provides invaluable service to King’s and we have absolute confidence in his continuing stewardship.”

A spokesperson had told The Guardian that it is “aware of the open letter” from UCU and that it is “following our standard procedures in response.”

The UCU previously passed a motion of no confidence in Lord Geidt – 46 votes to three – at a meeting in April.