On Board the Post-Prime Ministerial Gravy TrainThe Lavish Life After Number 10 Awaiting Boris Johnson
Tom Robinson explores the fortune that the Prime Minister can expect to earn after his reign finally comes to an end
Boris Johnson remains in Number 10, but when he is eventually forced to relinquish his grip on power, the blow will be somewhat softened by the knowledge that he is joining the post-prime ministerial gravy train.
It seems unlikely that Johnson will choose to languish on the backbenches after leaving office, surely preferring instead to leave frontline politics altogether (although being an MP doesn’t always act as a blockade to personal enrichment).
And so the man who reportedly told friends he is “permanently broke” and needs at least £300,000 a year to survive – double his current salary – has the lucrative world of commercial speaking, book deals, lobbying and consultancy to look forward to.
After leaving office, Tony Blair became the highest-paid public speaker in the world and regularly charged £200,000 a speech. Goldman Sachs even paid him an extraordinary £300,000 for one such event back in 2008. Even Theresa May, lacking the charisma of both Blair and Johnson, is charging an average of £8,422 an hour for her speaking engagements.
She has earned £1.9 million in commercial speaking since leaving office. Her earnings are not paid to her directly, but instead to the Office of Theresa May, a listed company from which she pays herself an £85,000 salary for working three days a month.
Joining the gilded world of the speaking circuit would likely come as some relief to Johnson, for once he leaves office he will no longer have to rely on Conservative donors to pay for his flat refurbishments and childcare costs.
Similarly, David Cameron earned millions as a commercial speaker after resigning in the wake of the Brexit vote. His limited company reported profits of £1.6 million from 2017 to 2019. In April 2019, however, he took the highly unusual move of re-registering the company as an unlimited company. This means shareholders have unlimited liability, yet the set-up comes with one specific positive – unlimited companies don’t have to file public accounts.
By the time Cameron registered his unlimited company, his lobbying career with Greensill Capital was gathering pace. He notoriously bombarded senior ministers and officials with texts and emails, signed off with emojis and “love DC” to sway them to give Greensill Capital access to millions in COVID loans.
Despite being unsuccessful in his lobbying attempts, Cameron earned £7 million before the financial firm collapsed in March 2021.
The trick, it seems, is not to get caught. While the Commons Treasury Committee said Cameron displayed a “significant lack of judgement”, it found he hadn’t broken any rules. A more shrewd former prime minister-turned-lobbyist may well find greater success if they embark upon this gravy train.
Tony Blair cast his gaze more internationally post-premiership and made a fortune in the world of ‘strategic advice’ while simultaneously holding the role of Middle East Peace Envoy.
Through his umbrella organisation, Tony Blair Associates, he worked with controversial clients such as oil companies and the governments of Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Saudi Arabia, among others – earning himself millions. He was also retained as an advisor to Zurich Financial Services and JP Morgan, raking in a combined annual fee of £3 million.
Another particularly lucrative opportunity for former prime ministers are book deals, one Boris Johnson will undoubtedly take up, with a book on Shakespeare still reportedly in the pipeline.
Johnson has already penned 11 books, including a biography of Winston Churchill and a novel about a tousled-haired, bicycle-riding MP who foils a terror attack to distract from scandals about his personal life.
Blair sold the advances to his bestselling A Journey for £4.6 million, although later pledged to donate all profits from the book to the Royal Legion. Cameron, who was reportedly asked to cut 100,000 words from his initial manuscript, sold the rights to his memoirs for £800,000.
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Taxpayer Cash for Life
Prime Ministers are surrounded by an extensive staff while in office and life outside Number 10 can be a shock to the system.
After leaving Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher didn’t know how to dial a phone and resorted to placing calls on a police line from her garage with the help of her Special Branch protection team, which was stationed there.
Taking pity on his predecessor, John Major introduced the Public Duty Cost Allowance, which provides an annual entitlement of up to £115,000 to be spent on office and secretarial costs. Since 2013, when full details of the scheme were first made public, it has cost the taxpayer £4.1 million.
Tony Blair, whose personal wealth is reported to be up to £50 million, is the only former Prime Minister to have claimed the full amount every year since leaving office. He has claimed £920,000 since 2013, with Major claiming £919,935 and Gordon Brown £891,258.
Since leaving office in 2016, Cameron has claimed £497,06 and May £92,668 since 2019. Nick Clegg too, despite never being Prime Minister, has claimed £444,775 since 2015.
Yet, Brown seemingly bucks the trend of former prime ministers leveraging their status and connections to feather their own nests. He earned millions on the speaker’s circuit after leaving office, yet did not personally receive a penny of it. Instead, it was all either donated to charity or the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown to fund their public service and charity work and from which he derives no income.
It seems unlikely that Boris Johnson, however, would adopt such an approach once he is evicted from Number 10. His money struggles are well documented, as is the fact he took a £670,000 pay cut to fulfil his life’s ambition of becoming Prime Minister – referring to his former £250,000-a-year second job at The Telegraph as “chicken feed”.
He has faced two costly divorces, has seven children – many of whom he still financially supports and a wife with a hankering for upmarket furnishings.
The post-prime ministerial gravy train will offer Boris Johnson a way to maintain the lifestyle to which he is accustomed while indulging his ego – a combination he will, as many of his predecessors did, surely find hard to resist.
This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.
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