The couple had sent out save the date invites for July 30, 2022, just days before the small ceremony at Westminster Cathedral, according to The Telegraph. The ceremony was so secret that some top aides only found out about the marriage afterward, the publication added.
Johnson and Symond’s one-year-old son, Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson, was also said to have attended the wedding along with two official witnesses.
COVID-19 guidelines in the UK state that up to 30 people can attend a wedding indoors as of May 17.
A staff member told The Sun: “Yes, there was a wedding – it was the prime minister. His bride looked beautiful. She had a long dress with no veil.
“He was extremely happy, as you can imagine. He looked very smart in a very dapper suit. She came down the aisle and he didn’t take his eyes off her. They read their vows then shared a kiss. They looked besotted,” they added.
Their son Wilfred had also been baptized at the Catholic cathedral in September 2020, The Telegraph reported at the time.
Symonds, 33, the Conservative Party’s former head of communications, is Johnson’s third wife. Johnson, 56, is twice divorced and has four children with ex-wife Maria Wheeler, and is also reported to have two other children he fathered outside of his marriages.
The couple’s relationship was first reported in June 2019. They became the first non-married couple to move into Downing Street together upon Johnson’s election as prime minister the following month. Symonds confirmed they got engaged at the end of 2019 in a private Instagram post, the BBC previously reported.
Johnson is also the first British prime minister to get married while in office in almost 200 years – Lord Liverpool was the last prime minister to do so when he married Mary Chester in 1822.
No. 10 Downing Street did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The Conservative Party pocketed nearly £30,000 from companies that were no longer trading at the time the donations were made, an analysis of Electoral Commission records and Companies House data by Insider has found.
Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, UK political parties can only receive donations from actively trading companies and they are obliged to carry out permissibility checks on all donations from companies.
However, Insider’s investigation has found four donations from three companies that official records show were either dissolved or in the process of dissolution, with two of the donations received by currently serving government ministers.
Following Insider’s findings, the opposition Labour party called for an official investigation into the donations.
Anneliese Dodds MP, Chair of the Labour Party, told Insider: “This just doesn’t pass the smell test. The Conservatives need to explain why it seems they pocketed tens of thousands of pounds from companies that only existed on paper.
“The rules are clear: political parties must check that companies making donations are carrying on business in the UK. The Electoral Commission must launch an urgent investigation to find out what’s happened here – and any breaches of the law should be punished fully.”
Two donations received by a government minister
The first donation identified by Insider was to Wendy Morton, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills, and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, from a company called Unionist Buildings.
Companies House records show that Unionist Buildings was struck off the register on 17 January 2017, following an application, filed on 21 October 2016, by its directors.
However, Electoral Commission records show Morton’s local association received £6,000 from Unionist Buildings on 2 June 2017, less than a week before the 2017 general election. The donation was accepted on 5 June 2017.
Nearly three years after Unionist Buildings was struck off the register, Morton declared a further £4,000 received by her local Conservative association from Unionist Buildings and registered on 9 January 2020. Her entry also contains the £6,000 donation from 2017.
At the time Morton received the £4,000 donation in January 2020, she was a junior minister in the Ministry of Justice.
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Unionist Buildings, who did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. Morton did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication either.
Donations were received from dissolved companies
Another donation was received from a company whose sole director was Conservative minister Charlotte Vere.
Vere is a Conservative life peer and a junior minister in the Department for Transport.
Companies House records for the firm Conservatives In, established to support the Remain vote in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, show it was struck off the register on 2 May 2017 following an application, filed on 3 February 2017, by Vere, the company’s sole director from June 2016 onwards.
On the application which Vere signed on 10 January 2017, she declared that “none of the circumstances described in section 1004 or 1005 of the Companies Act 2006 […] exists in relation to the company”.
Section 1004 of the Companies Act 2006 states that a company may not apply to be struck off if it has, “at any time in the previous three months […] traded or otherwise carried on business”.
But Electoral Commission records show that less than three months prior to this, Conservatives In gave £9,754.98 to the Conservative Party’s central office. The donation was made on 22 December 2016, the day after Vere was appointed a government whip in the House of Lords.
Vere’s entry on the register of ministers’ interests in November 2019 disclosed that her husband, Mike Chattey, is the head of fundraising at the Conservative Party. He has held the position since 2009.
Baroness Vere did not respond to a request for comment.
A company listed as a donor denies knowledge of donation
Companies House records for the firm Stridewell Estates show it was also struck off the register in November 2016, following an application for striking off made in August 2016.
A spokesperson for Stridewell Estates told Insider that the entry on the Electoral Commission’s website “must be a mistake.” She said “no payments were made from this company after it was dissolved. It is very possible that the company that donated has been recorded incorrectly.”
The spokesperson was unable to provide further details by the time of publication.
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Stridewell Estates.
“This just doesn’t pass the smell test”
Insider referred all of these donations to the Conservative Party. A spokesperson for the party said: “Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and are published by them.”
The party did not seek to claim that any of the donations did not occur.
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “Political parties can only accept donations over £500 from permissible sources. This includes companies who are registered and incorporated in the UK, and who carry on business at the time they make donations.
“We carry out our own permissibility checks on donors, though the legal responsibility lies with the parties to ensure that they only accept money from legal sources. Should there be evidence that the rules have been broken, we would consider it in line with our Enforcement Policy.”
Campaigners say there needs to be a stronger set of regulatory requirements for parties to ensure that they are receiving donations from permissible sources.
Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider: “It is high time that political parties be placed under a proper legal obligation to do thorough background checks on the origins of donations and the Electoral Commission be given robust powers to penalise them when they fail to do so.
“The public need to have confidence that electoral finance is squeaky clean and there aren’t any loopholes that would allow illegal or foreign donations which might skew our electoral process.”
Boris Johnson’s former Director of Communications, James Slack, managed to avoid scrutiny from the official watchdog overseeing the post-government appointments of civil servants, before taking a job with The Sun, Insider can reveal.
In a move that one former senior government official described to Insider as a “humiliation” to the regulator, officials judged that Slack was not required to consult the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments [ACOBA], despite his predecessors having done so.
Slack was made Director of Communications from the beginning of 2021 following nearly four years as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson.
Slack, who held both positions as a civil servant, not a political special adviser, had formerly been a journalist at the Daily Mail.
In March 2021, it was announced Slack had been appointed deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun, joining the paper in the “coming months”.
However, Insider has learned that despite four predecessors in the role having to consult ACOBA following their departure from Number 10, it was judged that there was no such requirement on Slack.
Under the Business Appointment Rules, only the two most senior grades of civil servants and their special adviser equivalents must seek advice from ACOBA before taking up a new role after leaving Crown service.
Responding to the Cabinet Office’s claim that Slack was not in the two most senior grades, a former senior government official told Insider: “It’s clear there is a total disregard for ACOBA from the top down in this current administration. If ACOBA can be ignored without penalty in this manner, it might as well be scrapped. Of course, former Directors of Communication at No 10 should be held accountable as to what they do when they leave office and how they use their excellent contacts.
“Let’s not pretend this is transparency when clearly it’s anything but. Mr Pickles [the chair of ACOBA] should seriously consider how much longer he can swallow the humiliation.”
A second former senior government official said: “This seems very odd. James was always careful to keep his status as a civil servant, and it seems he has also been careful to stay out of ACOBA’s remit.”
Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, told Insider: “When senior officials move from public office to private employment it can give rise to conflicts of interest that require careful management, especially when they go to work for the media.
“Whilst in theory there are strict rules to oversee this revolving door, in practice there appears to be sporadic compliance and no credible deterrent to ensure they are followed.
“There needs to be a complete overhaul of government’s post-employment controls to better protect against potential impropriety and provide clarity over what is and is not acceptable after someone leaves public office.”
An organogram, published by the Cabinet Office in January 2021, concerning the structure of civil servants working in Downing Street in October 2020, shows Slack was paid £140,000 to £144,999 in his role as the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson, at senior civil service grade 2.
Lee Cain, the then Director of Communications, was paid the same salary, according to the annual report on special advisers’ pay. Insider understands that Cain is required to consult ACOBA for any appointments he is taking up since leaving the Government.
A job advert for the position of the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson, created after Slack’s promotion, likewise describes that role as being senior civil service grade 2 and reporting to Slack as the Director of Communications.
Insider contacted Slack asking for comment but did not receive a response.
Asked to comment, a government spokesperson said: “All the correct procedures have been followed.”
A government source told Insider that Slack had the standard conditions of not being allowed to use privileged information or to engage in lobbying for two years after office, applied to him. Applications by former civil servants that do not require seeking advice from ACOBA are handled entirely within the department of the former civil servant, in this case, the Cabinet Office.
Concerns over Slack’s activities in the period between his new role being announced and him taking it up were revealed by the Daily Mirror, who reported that Slack had continued to attend meetings with the Prime Minister a week after the announcement.
The rules on taking gardening leave after resigning from senior posts in Downing Street were unclear, the Mirror reported.