Rishi Sunak ‘visited Frank Hester’s office on helicopter trip paid for by donor’

Rishi Sunak reportedly visited Frank Hester’s office on a £16,000 helicopter trip to Leeds paid for by the businessman last year, raising questions about whether the Tory backer’s £10 million donations have bought him access to the Prime Minister.

Mr Sunak is facing calls to reveal the extent of his relationship with Mr Hester following the emergence of comments the donor allegedly made about MP Diane Abbott – that she made him want to “hate all black women” and “should be shot”.

The Prime Minister has this week come under fire for his handling of the fallout from the remarks. He eventually described them as “racist” but only after Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch broke ranks with No 10 to condemn them as such.

Frank Hester apology
Frank Hester reportedly paid for Rishi Sunak’s helicopter ride to Leeds, where the PM visited the businessman’s company (CHOGM Rwanda 2022/YouTube/PA)

The Guardian, which broke the story on Mr Hester’s comments, on Saturday reported that he paid for Mr Sunak’s travel costs to Leeds, where the Prime Minister got a private tour of his company.

The newspaper said the visit came around three weeks after Mr Hester’s software firm, the Phoenix Partnership (TPP), gave a second £5 million tranche to Mr Sunak’s party last November.

He had already individually donated £5 million in May while another £5 million is reportedly on the table.

Mr Sunak was pictured meeting small business owners at a jewellery studio in Farsley, West Yorkshire, on November 23.

He visited TPP’s offices in Leeds for around an hour later that day, the Guardian reported, citing unnamed sources.

No 10 declined to comment on the Prime Minister’s “private meetings”.

Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said: “Everyone can see that Frank Hester’s disgusting remarks were clearly racist and misogynistic. Rishi Sunak keeping these millions is inexcusable.

“There are serious questions to answer on Rishi Sunak’s close relationship with Frank Hester.

“The Prime Minister must urgently confirm what was discussed, and whether Frank Hester’s contract running over 60% of confidential UK health data or Government AI policy came up.

“And Rishi Sunak needs to grow a backbone, pay this money back, cut ties and deal with the extreme views that appear to be tolerated in his party.”

A No 10 source said: “Donations such as for flights are all publicly available in his declarations of interest. Wouldn’t get into his private meetings.”

Frank Hester apology
Diane Abbott was the target of Frank Hester’s alleged racist remarks in 2019 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mr Hester has posted on LinkedIn about attending Mr Sunak’s discussion on artificial intelligence with tech billionaire Elon Musk last year and told the Telegraph: “I’ve had some quite long conversations with Rishi about AI.”

Mr Hester has apologised for making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott, the first black woman elected to Parliament, but claimed they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

The Prime Minister has insisted the donor’s “remorse should be accepted” as he resisted calls to hand back his £10 million donations amid the row.

Ms Abbott on Friday said “no Conservative has apologised” to her after the emergence of Mr Hester’s 2019 verbal attack.

The veteran MP told Channel 4 News: “They keep saying that the Hester guy, he’s apologised. He’s not apologised. He’s apologised for being rude, whereas in fact he was racist, and he’s not apologised for that.

“In fact, he was inciting violence. He’s not apologised for that.”