Boris Johnson saw Rupert Murdoch for a “social meeting” on the day he signalled his intention to seek a general election last year, according to new transparency disclosures.
Johnson saw the media billionaire on 2 September, the day when Downing Street briefed that he would be seeking an autumn election if his Brexit plans were thwarted. In the event the election was pushed back to December.
Murdoch was the only newspaper proprietor seen by Johnson in the first three months of his premiership, although he saw a number of editors from the rightwing media.
The prime minister met representatives of Murdoch’s News Corp on at least five occasions between becoming prime minister in July and the end of September.
He also met the editors of the Spectator, Mail, Express and Telegraph, but his first media meeting as prime minister was with George Osborne, the Tory former chancellor and editor of the Evening Standard.
Asked the purpose of Johnson’s social meeting with Murdoch, a spokesman said: “The prime minister has meetings with a range of individuals and organisations, which includes those with the media.”
Sajid Javid, the chancellor, also met Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, one of his senior executives, just over a week later on 11 September in a meeting described as part of his “media engagement”.
Campaigners from Media Reform Coalition have previously pointed out the high level of access that Murdoch and News Corp representatives enjoyed to senior ministers during David Cameron and Theresa May’s governments compared with other newspaper proprietors.
The disclosures showed Johnson did not accept any hospitality for the first three months of his premiership but he was given gifts including a mantel carriage clock by the US vice president, which was held by the Cabinet Office, and wine worth £305 by one Simon Mercer, which he bought for personal use.
His partner, Carrie Symonds, was given cosmetics by the King of Jordan, a wristwatch by Newgate, and sunglasses by Toyshades, which were all held by the department.
The disclosures also showed that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister and a former environment secretary, took an RAF plane costing £1,700 to a meeting in Calais – instead of getting the train. It is understood it was considered by the Cabinet Office to be the quickest way of getting there after a morning cabinet meeting for discussions with the French on no-deal Brexit preparations.