Downing St approached ex-Labour chancellor for help setting up trust to oversee PM's flat refurbishment

·3-min read

Downing Street approached former Labour chancellor Lord Alistair Darling to ask for help setting up a trust to oversee the refurbishment of Boris Johnson's private apartments, Sky News can reveal.

Labour has today accused the government of being "misleading" over claims they had "engagement" with the opposition over the refurbishment of the Number 10 flat last year.

Sky News has learned that last July the former Labour chancellor was approached by officials in Number 10 who made contact via officials in Sir Keir Starmer's office.

The officials wanted Lord Darling to sit on a trust which would cover any renovation costs of the Downing Street estate.

The former Chancellor is understood to have been told arrangements would mirror those of the White House and the trust would have been run by Tory donor Lord David Brownlow.

The trust was never explicitly linked to the refurbishment of the PM's personal living space - the flat above Number 11 Downing Street - and instead the pitch is thought to have implied that it was about the maintenance of the whole building.

Lord Darling, who lived above Downing Street when he was Gordon Brown's chancellor, turned down the role, informing Sir Keir Starmer's office of the decision.

He is thought to have argued that the government, rather than a trust, should maintain government buildings, and that the project could attract the unwanted attention from donors who might want favours from the PM or a peerage.

This matters because it provides further confirmation that officials, as well as Conservative Campaign Headquarters staff, were trying to help Mr Johnson find other ways of financing the "lavish" refurbishment of the flat.

This revelation suggests the civil service had been dragged into the controversial financial arrangements connected to the flat refurbishment many months before it became public.

It also confirms that Lord Brownlow was central to the scheme.

Last October, Lord Brownlow emailed that he had made £58,000 to cover the payments the party has already made "on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed 'Downing Street Trust - of which I have been made chairman".

It is unclear what happened between July when Number 10 tried to set up the trust chaired by the Tory donor in October, when the email says a donation was made.

Lord Brownlow's email was leaked to the Daily Mail.

On Friday, the government said about the trust: "The government has been considering the merits of whether works on parts or all of the Downing Street estate could be funded by a trust; this could mirror long-standing arrangements in place for Chequers (a private trust) or for Dorneywood (a charitable trust), reducing the need for subsidy from the public purse. Such matters are legally complex and policy development is ongoing. The government engaged with the leader of the opposition's office on the proposals in July."

The claim that Labour was "engaged" has infuriated the opposition.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "It is totally misleading for the Conservatives to claim they 'engaged' with Labour on the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.

"At a time when hospital waiting lists are rising, crime is going up and people are worried about their jobs, the British people will be baffled why Boris Johnson is wasting so much time trying to cover up the truth.

"The Conservatives need to come up clean and straight with the public so we can end this whole sorry saga."

A government spokesman said: "The government engaged with the Leader of the Opposition's office on the proposals for a Downing Street Trust over the summer through email exchanges and a phone call in early July."