Labour Raises 'Serious Concerns' With Ethics Adviser Over His Probe Into PM's Flat Refurb

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The WhatsApp messages between the prime minister and and Lord Brownlow which have been published in a letter from the Prime Minister's standards adviser, Lord Geidt, to Boris Johnson. (Photo: Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests via PA Wire/PA Images)
The WhatsApp messages between the prime minister and and Lord Brownlow which have been published in a letter from the Prime Minister's standards adviser, Lord Geidt, to Boris Johnson. (Photo: Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests via PA Wire/PA Images)

Labour has written to the PM’s ethics adviser to raise “serious concerns and questions” about his decision not to revise the conclusion of his probe into Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment in the light of WhatsApp messages with a Tory donor being published.

Texts released on Thursday showed that the PM discussed a proposed “Great Exhibition 2.0” with Lord Brownlow at the same time as requesting his help with the £112,000 refurbishment of his official residence in Downing Street.

The conversation led to a meeting between the Conservative peer and then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden but the idea, as Lord Brownlow envisaged, was not progressed.

On Friday, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner wrote to Lord Geidt in the aftermath of the standards adviser saying the messages would not have changed his conclusion that Johnson did not breach the ministerial code – although he made clear his deep unhappiness at the way the issue had been handled.

Johnson was forced to issue a “humble and sincere apology” to Lord Geidt, after he failed to inform him of the exchange with Lord Brownlow when he carried out an investigation into the funding of work last year.

Rayner wrote: “You wrote to the prime minister last month regarding his failure to disclose to you WhatsApp communications with Lord Brownlow, the text of which have now been made public.

“You yourself note in the correspondence with the prime minister that you doubt you would have reached the same conclusions, without qualification, in your previous report had those messages been made available to you.

“However, you do not appear to have revised those conclusions, nor addressed some of the issues that have been raised by the information that is now available. This raises a number of serious concerns and questions.”

Laying out the detail of the WhatsApp messages and the later meeting Lord Brownlow had with the then culture secretary about his “Great Exhibition 2.0” proposal, Rayner asked: “Do you stand by your original conclusion that there could be ‘no reasonably perceived conflict’ in the prime minister seeking the support of a donor who at the same time is lobbying him for government support of a project they are promoting?

“It is irrelevant in this regard whether Lord Brownlow’s motives are altruistic; the issue is that a reasonable person could surely perceive that his financial relationship with the prime minister has provided him with privileged access to government, and that relationship was undeclared at the time.”

In a WhatsApp message sent on November 29 2020, Conservative Party leader Johnson asked Lord Brownlow if he would give his approval for interior designer Lulu Lytle to begin work.

He added: “Ps am on the great exhibition plan Will revert.”

The peer said he would sort the flat “ASAP”, adding: “Thanks for thinking about GE2”.

On January 18 2021, Lord Brownlow attended a meeting with Dowden and representatives of the Albert Hall to discuss the peer’s Great Exhibition 2.0 proposal.

Downing Street has said the bid was not taken forward, although the government is going ahead with Festival UK, which was first announced in 2018.

A spokesman for the prime minister said the Tory peer’s suggestion was “dealt with in the same way” as a member of the public’s would have been “in that a department will look at it and take a view on it”.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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