'We project world standing': Minister defends Govt plans to buy '£20m New York partyhouse'

15 May 2022, 11:23 | Updated: 15 May 2022, 12:16

Kwasi Kwarteng defends £20m New York townhouse for diplomats

By Megan Hinton

The Business Secretary has defended Government plans to purchase a "£20 million party house" in New York in a bid to "improve the entertaining capabilities" of British diplomats.

The Mail on Sunday revealed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is "very supportive" of plans to purchase a 19th Century townhouse from Guy Wildenstein, an art dealer who is facing trial for a £500 million tax fraud.

Speaking to Tom Swarbrick on Sunday, Kwasi Kwarteng defended the move claiming people "judge" Britain's "world standing" on embassy buildings.

When questioned about whether or not it was right for the Government to spend millions on the building whilst Britain struggles to grapple with the cost of living crisis, the Business Secretary replied: "So two things on that one I don't know any of the specifics you were talking about.

"More generally I've been to embassies all around the world and you do have costs and you do have to host people and host dignitaries and all that kind of stuff and project your standing in the world, that's just the way people are.

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"But we have huge embassies around the world which people actually see as landmarks and want to flock to.

He continued: "If you go to Paris the British embassy is probably one of the most remarkable buildings in the city and people see that as a reflection of our standing in the world, rightly or wrongly.

"All I would say is that people look at these buildings and they make a judgement on that.

Adding: "I don't know about the specifics of [the New York plan] and all of the money but I will always resist the idea that we should just flog everything off and get the ambassadors to live in a flat down town."

A leaked Government memo, seen by The Mail on Sunday, states "the Sutton Square townhouse would provide a high-quality entertainment space close to the UK mission to the UN [and] comfortable accommodation for VIPs", but warns that "there may be media interest in the purchase given the high value of the property and its intended use as a diplomatic residence".

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The £20m mansion has a wine closet, bullet-proof windows and a fitness room.
The £20m mansion has a wine closet, bullet-proof windows and a fitness room. Picture: Google Street View

The UK Foreign Office currently has three other residences in New York for the Consul General, Deputy CG and Deputy Permanent Representative.

But another memo implied that diplomats cannot "regularly rely on these residences" and additional entertaining space is needed with with capacity to host at least 24 people seated for dinner and 50 plus standing.

The "one-of-a-kind mansion" is marketed as having "an incredible upper level deck an enormous entertaining space that enjoys awe-inspiring views of the New York City skyline".

Estate Agents listed features of the property which include a wine closet, bullet-proof windows and a fitness room.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "No decisions have been made on purchasing a new residence of the UK's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York."

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