Labour has accused the Government of blatantly misusing taxpayers’ money after reports emerged that Whitehall officials took a £50,000 sightseeing tour of the UK on board the Prime Minister’s official plane.
It is understood a number of Foreign Office officials boarded the Government jet on Wednesday, and that “the usual catering” for a flight was available.
According to The Sun, the trip cost £50,000 and during the journey a “fancy meal with a selection of alcoholic drinks” was served.
Flightradar24’s data shows the plane took off from London Stansted Airport, headed to the Lake District and then further north on to the Sottish Borders, before returning.
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry told the PA news agency: “This kind of blatant misuse of taxpayers’ money would be considered totally unacceptable at the best of times, but in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis our country is facing, those responsible should feel utterly ashamed.
“More than anything, it also shows that the culture of wasting public money and laughing about it behind our backs goes way beyond Boris Johnson, and will continue until we get rid of this whole wretched Government.”
A Government spokesman said the flight was necessary to comply with aviation law.
The Airbus is expected to take the new prime minister to Balmoral, Scotland, to be sworn in by the Queen next Tuesday.
The spokesman said: “In order to comply with Airbus and aviation industry rules, the aircraft was legally bound to operate a maintenance flight before September 4 or face significant additional storage costs.”
Labour former minister Chris Bryant also criticised the trip, telling PA: “This Tory Government seems to have an infinite capacity to waste taxpayers’ money on partying and vanity projects.”
It is not the first time the aircraft, which is used for ministerial trips and for the Royal Family, attracted criticism.
The Airbus A321 is the second so-called “Brexit Jet” acquired by the Government alongside the PM’s primary plane, the RAF Voyager Vespina aircraft, which was repainted in the colours of the Union flag at a cost of £900,000.
The Government is leasing the £80 million plane, which was given the same paint job as RAF Voyager at an undisclosed cost.
The contract for the Airbus A321 said it “must be operated in a ‘Global Britain’ livery”, with an included stipulation saying it can only be used by the Government.
Foreign Secretary and frontrunner to become the next prime minister Liz Truss was accused of a “grotesque misuse of taxpayers’ money” last year following reports she had chartered the jet to Australia.
The Independent reported the Foreign Secretary had opted for the private flight for her trip due to security concerns, although commercial flights were available.
A senior source told the newspaper it would have cost £500,000 to operate the A321.
According to the ministerial code, “ministers must ensure that they always make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements”.
It says: “Non-scheduled flights may be authorised when a scheduled service is not available, or when it is essential to travel by air, but the requirements of official or Parliamentary business or security considerations preclude the journey being made by a scheduled service.”
The Prime Minister’s primary plane, RAF Voyager, an Airbus A330 jet, was repurposed for use by the UK Government in 2015, at a cost of £10 million.
It was first used to take former prime minister David Cameron to the Nato summit in Poland in July 2016.
At the time, the Government defended the expenditure, arguing it was cheaper than chartering flights and would save about £775,000 a year.
In 2018, Mr Johnson complained while foreign secretary that the RAF Voyager jet, which is shared by the Prime Minister, senior Cabinet members and the Royal Family, “never seems to be available”.