Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted on ‘incredibly expensive’ venue owned by Tory donor to host US official

The then international trade secretary dismissed civil servants’ concerns that the venue was ‘incredibly expensive’

The foreign secretary insisted on taking a US trade official to a Mayfair club owned by a Tory donor despite officials’ concerns that the venue was “incredibly expensive”, according to the Sunday Times.

Liz Truss, who was then serving as international trade secretary, rejected an alternative venue which cost “only £1000” and insisted on going to the 5 Hertford Street gentleman’s club.

How much was the lunch that Liz Truss arranged?

In June, Liz Truss made a request to use £3000 in departmental funds from the department of international trade, where she was then secretary of state, to host US president Joe Biden’s trade representative, Katherine Tai.

She requested that the venue to host the lunch should be a Mayfair gentleman's club owned by Tory donor Robin Birley, 5 Hertford Street.

According to the Sunday Times, officials raised concerns that the venue was too expensive and was not appropriate due to the owner’s links with the Conservative party.

An email obtained by the Sunday Times lays out officials’ concerns about the venue and also claims Truss insisted on the more expensive 5 Hertford Street venue, even when a ‘cheaper’ alternative was put forward.

It states: “SoS [secretary of state, Liz 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 letter describes the venue as “obviously incredibly expensive” and states that the cost is “more than I understand we’d usually expect to pay”.

It also revealed that civil servants had looked into “another option” for the lunch, at the Quo Vadis restaurant, which cost “only £1000”.

However, the letter states that “[the special adviser] refused on behalf of SoS to consider anywhere else and is insisting that we book 5 Hertford Street and claims SoS would find Quo Vadis inappropriate”.

A later email said that Truss “explicitly asked that we book 5 Hertford Street”, prompting civil servants to contact the venue and try to negotiate a better price.

The Sunday Times reports that the venue eventually agreed to reduce the fee to £1400 on the condition that the full amount be paid immediately after the meal.

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.”

What was ordered at the 5 Hertford Street lunch?

The Sunday Times reports that a receipt for the dinner shows the ten people present shared five bottles of expensive wine and drank gin.

The receipt shows that Truss, Tai and others at the lunch ordered

  • Three bottles of Pazo Barrantes Albarino by Marques de Murrieta wine at £153 each
  • Two bottles of Coudoulet de Beaucastel wine at £130 each
  • Two measures of Tanqueray dry gin 

Who is Robin Birley?

In the letter sent by officials in the Department for International Trade, it stated: “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 [Truss] and [her special adviser] know it.”

Birley is the half-brother of Lord Goldsmith, the environment minister, and has previously donated £20,000 to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign.

The millionaire club owner is also friends with Conservative party co-chairman Ben Elliot.

The Sunday Times reports that company accounts show the club lost £236,873 last year, roughly equivalent to the previous year.

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