New Independent Advisor Christopher Geidt has cleared Johnson of breaking the ministerial code, but warns that the minister was ‘unwise’ to allow the flat refurbishment to go ahead without ‘more ‘rigorous regard’ for how the refurbishment would be paid for.
Boris Johnson “unwisely” embarked on a refurbishment of his official Downing Street flat without knowing how it would be paid for, according to a report which found a “significant failing” by officials.
The Tory peer and party donor David Brownlow, and the Conservative party, initially stepped in to settle bills, said the report by the new independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Christopher Geidt.
However, Lord Geidt said that given factors such as the ongoing Covid pandemic, and Brownlow’s status as an existing party supporter, he was happy that “no conflict (or reasonably perceived conflict) arises as a result of these interests”.
It is perhaps rather telling that Johnson has hired a new independent advisor to present findings.
Boris Johnson has been facing a series of inquiries regarding the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.
Separately, the Electoral Commission said last month it had begun a formal investigation into how the refurbishment work was paid for, saying there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect that multiple offences might have been committed.
Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds carried out renovations on their private residence, the flat above 11 Downing Street.
The prime minister receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to spend on his living quarters. But there’s been speculation the final bill came to as much as £200,000, which is shocking.
Last week, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings claimed that the Prime Minister had planned to solve this shortfall by having donors “secretly pay” for the work.
Mr Cummings said this would have been “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal” and would mean the PM “almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended”.
Mr Johnson himself insisted “I covered the costs” during an angry exchange with the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions this week.
However, Johnson repeatedly refused to answer questions concerning the loans that had been procured to cover the costs prior, and refused to answer if any loans had been given. More importantly, who may have donated or loaned.
Renovations began last April, while Johnson was in hospital with coronavirus, and while he was advised that the trust could cover “some if not all” of the costs, initially the Cabinet Office footed the bill, passing the charge on to the Conservative party. Geidt said there was “no evidence” Johnson was “aware” of either of these transactions.
Legal advice received by the government in mid-June then raised doubts about whether the trust could in fact cover the costs, with Brownlow appointed its chair in July.
In October, Brownlow paid the money “directly” to a supplier; no figure was given for the costs, which are reported to have been up to £200,000. In April, the Daily Mail published details of an email from Brownlow in which he said he was making a £58,000 donation “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed ‘Downing Street Trust’”.
Geidt said that he found Johnson knew nothing about the payments made by Brownlow “until immediately prior” to newspaper reports in February this year. Johnson then “settled the full amount himself” on 8 March.
Scathing in his criticism about how work on the trust had proceeded, Geidt said it was “not subjected to a scheme of rigorous project management by officials”, calling this “a significant failing”.
The list of ministers’ private interests is usually updated every six months, but the previous version was published in July last year. Such a significant delay in publishing what is usually a routine register of things such as shares owned and charitable posts created particular interest because of the many unanswered questions about how Johnson has financed his lifestyle inside No 10.
Johnson has managed to weasel his way out of an extremely serious expose into how the leader of the UK was living and financing his lifestyle at a time of global pandemic.
As of Friday 28th May, the number of UK deaths (approx) within 28 days of receving a positive COVID test is 127,768.
Mr Johnson has also been accused of letting thousands die needlessly.
Other unanswered questions include whether the prime minister received any help, even on an interim basis, with childcare for his son, Wilfred, and the reported dispatch of organic meals and other food to No 10 by a company owned by another leading Conservative donor.
Featured Image Credit: The National