Jennifer Arcuri, the US entrepreneur whose friendship with Boris Johnson has sparked a conflict of interest row, has criticised Brexit for its impact on business and cited it as a reason for her to leave the UK.
Arcuri’s relationship with Johnson has been the focus of intense scrutiny, with ministers forced to deny the prime minister had any role in the awarding of £126,000 of public money to her companies. The pair were close personal friends when Johnson was mayor of London and Arcuri went with him on three overseas trade missions. Johnson was said to be a regular visitor to her London apartment but her friends and family have denied suggestions they had an affair, insisting the daytime visits were for “technology lessons”.
It has now emerged that Arcuri is no fan of Brexit, blaming it for a negative impact on business and citing it as a reason for her to move her interests overseas.
In an article about the impact of Brexit on start-up firms in the Research Fortnight journal in March 2017 – a year before she left the UK – Arcuri said: “There are other markets increasingly becoming more and more attractive.”
She also criticised the UK government’s stringent data regulations, introduced by then prime minister Theresa May, saying they had instilled a “mass surveillance culture”. The article went on: “Brexit will make it harder to fight that by cutting Britain off from the rest of the world, [Arcuri] said.”
The article added that her firm, a tech start-up called Hacker House, was “eying up its options, which include privacy-friendly Iceland and the United States”.
Arcuri went on: “There is a very strong argument for one to make about leaving the UK.”
Hacker House is now under investigation for the award in January 2019 of a £100,000 cyber-skills grant intended for businesses operating in the UK. Matt Warman, the digital minister, has said that the remaining £53,000 of the grant would be frozen until a review by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is complete.
Arcuri moved to Orange County, California, with her business partner husband Matthew Hickey in June 2018. On Wednesday, Hacker House filed a new address with Companies House, from a flat previously rented in Macclesfield by Arcuri and Hickey to a ‘virtual office’ registered on Fleet Street in London, where none of its staff appear to work.
Arcuri’s previous company, Innotech, was awarded £26,000 of public funding, while Johnson was mayor of London, leading to speculation that the business had received preferential treatment as a result of the friendship between the pair. The award of that funding, along with Arcuri’s presence on several trade missions, is now under investigation by Johnson’s successor as mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Arcuri has previously said: “Any grants received by my companies and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman.”
Johnson has refused to answer questions about the relationship with Arcuri and the award of the grant money, first brought to light in a Sunday Times investigation. The revelation that Arcuri’s departure from the London tech scene may have been prompted by the negative effects of Brexit will be a further embarrassment to the prime minister.