Boris And The Boys Club: Leading Women Hit Out After PM Dines At Men-Only Garrick Club

The prime minister has claimed he wants to create a world that is “fairer”, more "gender neutral" and "more feminine".
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Boris Johnson was spotted leaving the men's only Garrick Club this week
Boris Johnson was spotted leaving the men's only Garrick Club this week
HuffPost UK

Boris Johnson has come under fire from female leaders after he dined at a private members’ club that excludes women.

The prime minister was photographed leaving the exclusive Garrick Club in central London on Tuesday night after reportedly flying 400 miles from Glasgow.

He met with Tory peers and climate change sceptic Lord Moore of Etchingham, according to reports. The event was said to be for Daily Telegraph journalists – where Johnson was a £250,000 a year columnist.

Johnson and Lord Moore were “locked in conversation”, according to the Daily Mail. The paper also suggests Owen Paterson’s “name was mentioned” - the Conservative MP at the centre of the sleaze row engulfing the government this week and a friend of Lord Moore.

The 190-year-old club sits at the heart of the establishment, where past and present members have included Charles Dickens, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jeremy Paxman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Fry.

However, despite a high-profile campaign backed by Cherie Blair, women are still not allowed to join the club and can only visit as a guest of a male member.

Earlier this year Cherie Blair recalled watching her fellow trainee barrister and future husband Tony being admitted into the club in 1976, while she was shut outside.
Earlier this year Cherie Blair recalled watching her fellow trainee barrister and future husband Tony being admitted into the club in 1976, while she was shut outside.
Jeff Spicer via Getty Images

Critics point out Johnson’s attendance at the club is not a good look for a prime minister who talks about equality and levelling up the country.

Conservative MP and chair of the woman and equalities committee, Caroline Nokes, told HuffPost UK: “Every time I get optimistic that that blokey attitude is diminishing something happens to remind me it is alive and well. Why on Earth is it still a cultural ‘thing’ that men only clubs are ok?

“We wouldn’t ban people on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but gender is somehow still ok?

“I want the PM to start building back better in a way that doesn’t exclude women, like he suggested at the G7, but we still seem a long way from any commitment on that.”

Earlier this year Johnson told international leaders he wanted to create a world that was “fairer”, more “gender neutral” and “more feminine”.

No10 has also previously said that Johnson considers himself a feminist.

Lingerie tycoon Emily Bendell, who set up a petition to get the Garrick to accept female members, said she had no issue with men hanging out with other men, but added: “This club clearly has a lot of influential members, highly concentrated in certain professions.”

The Bluebella entrepreneur added: “The fact that Boris Johnson was attending a work reunion shows how intrinsically the club is linked to professional connections.

“It’s obviously incredibly disappointing that people who are telling us they are committed to equality and diversity think it’s OK to frequent a club like the Garrick. The two things are not compatible.”

Last year lawyers sent a legal letter on Bendell’s behalf to the club, saying their policy breached the equalities act.

Rachel Crasnow QC, equality law specialist at Cloisters Chambers in London, said it was disappointing to see Johnson considered it “acceptable” to attend a meeting at the Garrick “given its notorious ban on women members”.

She added: “His stance calls into question his attitude to the exclusion from women from contemporary society.

“Sadly his actions show the way in which men-only clubs are considered acceptable by parts of the establishment, in a way in which a ban on certain religions, ethnicities or sexual orientations would be totally taboo.”

Taiwo Owatemi, Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, added: “Elitist ‘men-only’ clubs are a relic of the 19th century, but it tells you everything you need to know about the prime minister’s commitment to gender equality that he’s still frequenting them in the 21st. He’s out-of-touch and stuck in the past.”

In 2015 the Garrick’s membership voted 50.5 per cent in favour of allowing female members but the club rules require a two-thirds majority for a change.

At that time several members stated that they should look to have another vote in five years, but no other vote has taken place.

HuffPost UK approached No10 asking if the PM thought women should be accepted into the club. The Daily Mail said Johnson resigned his own membership of the Garrick “a decade ago”.

A spokesman for the prime minister later said on Friday that it was a “private dinner” and pointed to the government’s record on what it was doing for women. The spokesman said he had not asked him about whether women should be admitted to the Garrick Club.

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