Why are MPs talking about Hacker House?

The DCMS was questioned over the funding today

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Digital minister Matt Warman has jumped to the defence of the Prime Minister and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) amid criticism of public money going to two firms linked to American businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri.

Controversy around government funding going to her tech firms Innotech and Hacker House was sparked by speculation over the nature of Boris Johnson’s relationship with Ms Arcuri while he was London Mayor.

The Prime Minister is accused of failing to declare a potential conflict of interest, and now has 13 days to share details "of all contact" with Ms Arcuri by a committee that scrutinises mayoral spending.

The Sunday Times reported 34-year-old Ms Arcuri was given a total of £126,000 in public money, and was treated to privileged access to three foreign trade missions led by Mr Johnson.

Of that total, £100,000 was given to her firm Hacker House from the DCMS earlier this year.

However, digital minister Mr Warman said Mr Johnson and his staff had “absolutely no role” in awarding the £100,000 grant and that the department had “no reason to think there is anything untoward in this particular matter.”

Neither the Prime Minister nor Ms Arcuri has commented on the nature of their relationship, but Mr Johnson has insisted "everything was done with complete propriety".

And Ms Arcuri commented: “Any grants received by my companies and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman.”

The Labour Party has called for Mr Johnson to fully explain the matter, with MP Tulip Siddiq branding it "friends with benefits funding" as Parliament resumed today.

And Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson said it was "very difficult" to see how the company fulfilled the criteria for the grants.

"This is fundamentally a question of character and of suitability. Is the Prime Minister of sufficient character to occupy high office and disburse public funds, is he suitable?" he said.

"Does he understand that the trappings and privileges of power come with restrictions and restraints? Is he capable of restraining himself?".

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran addressed the issue in an urgent question in the House of Commons today.

“It would indeed be disappointing if we were to find that the Prime Minister has form in bending the rules for personal or political gain,” she said.

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