Liz Truss’ massive in-flight food and booze bill revealed

LONDON — Former U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss spent more than £15,000 on in-flight catering for a single trip to Australia while she was running the Foreign Office.

The bill from the 2022 visit via private jet cost British taxpayers more than £1,400 per head for the 12 government representatives on the trip, while a journey two months earlier to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand led to a bill for £12,700 in catering, the equivalent of £1,300 per head.

The figures were revealed in a freedom of information response to the opposition Labour Party.

The government said the sums should not be interpreted as the amount of food and drink consumed because the costs include the wider logistics involved with a private airline providing catering, regardless of what passengers order.

But Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry said the figures were an example of ministers “determined to have their hugely expensive cake and eat it: booking planes which are for them and them alone, ignoring the burden on the taxpayer, and indifferent to the cost of living crisis facing the rest of the country.”

The huge costs of official government trips Truss took as foreign secretary have been highlighted before. But this is the first time a breakdown of the in-flight VIP catering has been revealed. 

Catering for the Australia flights in January 2022 cost £15,639 in total — 3.4 percent of the total £454,626.59 cost of the tickets.

Catering for Truss’ South East Asia trip in November 2021 totaled £12,742 — 4.2 percent of the overall £300,545.39 flight cost.

Shortest premiership in UK history

Another Truss trip to Indonesia in the summer of 2022 cost £5,604 in in-flight catering for 14 government representatives — £431 per head and 1.5 percent of the total £369,000 cost of the flight. The trip was cut short when then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was toppled and Truss rushed home to launch her successful bid to lead the Conservative Party and so become prime minister herself.

Her short-lived premiership led to a run on the banks, and she resigned after 49 days.

Last year it emerged Truss was in dispute with the Cabinet Office after being left with a £12,000 bill for costs relating to her stays at Chevening, the official grace and favor residence enjoyed as a perk by foreign secretaries. Most of the bill related to hospitality, with some of the rest covering missing items such as bathrobes.

A spokesperson for Truss said: “Liz had many responsibilities as foreign secretary, but it ought to be self-evident that organizing the in-flight catering on overseas trips was not among them.”

Her short-lived premiership led to a run on the banks, and she resigned after 49 days | Bianca De Marchi-Pool/Getty Images

She was also reported by the Guardian to have overruled civil service advice to host a lunch at an expensive private club owned by a Tory donor, where the eventual bill for the taxpayer came in at £3,000.

The data Labour requested also detailed catering costs for trips by other recent foreign secretaries. The in-flight catering bill for Truss’s predecessor Dominic Raab during a visit to Indonesia and Brunei in April 2021 amounted to £6,215.

A trip Raab took to Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia in June 2021 cost the exchequer £7,625 for in-flight catering. And a visit made by Truss’s successor James Cleverly to Japan, South Korea and Singapore cost £14,900 for 14 government representatives — almost 4 percent of the overall £384,160 flight cost. 

Living the high life

“The figures shown represent the end to end administrative cost of providing in-flight catering, including transport, on-boarding / off-boarding, preparation, disposal in line with adherence to international waste management regulations, and the required equipment for these processes,” a government spokesperson said.

“These logistical elements make up most of the cost and are charged by the vendor regardless of the specific items ordered or consumed.”

Officials also pointed out the overall costs of private plane hire are in line with past precedent.

But Labour’s Thornberry said private flights had become “the default option for ministers to do their overseas travel.”

“If they are determined to ignore the ministerial code by opting for government planes when commercial flights are available, the least they should be doing is taking along media or business delegations to help subsidize the cost,” she added.

Labour battled the government for two years for the breakdown in VIP in-flight catering costs. Thornberry will highlight the case when she speaks at the OpenDemocracy conference in central London Friday.