Nine questions No 10 have failed to fully answer on Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp exchange over flat revamp

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  • Oliver Dowden
    British accountant and politician (born 1978)
  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
Boris Johnson and his then girlfriend – now wife – Carrie entering No 10 following his 2019 general election victory (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
Boris Johnson and his then girlfriend – now wife – Carrie entering No 10 following his 2019 general election victory (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

No10 refused to say on Friday whether Boris Johnson directly raised with a Cabinet minister a scheme being pushed by a Tory donor funding his Downing Street flat revamp.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman also declined to clarify whether the PM’s private office spoke to that of then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden about Lord Brownlow’s plans for a Great Exhibition 2.0.

The unanswered questions are among at least nine still hanging over No10 about a Whatsapp exchange between Lord Brownlow and Mr Johnson which showed they mentioned the exhibition as the premier was asking for funding to be released to do up his flat over No11.

A few months after they swapped messages, the wealthy peer met Mr Dowden at the Royal Albert Hall to discuss his proposals.

Lord Brownlow had intially put up at least £50,000 for the flat revamp, which seemingly was going to be paid through a trust that was being set up.

The luxury refurbishment cost some £112,000 and involved work by designer Lulu Lytle.

Mr Johnson eventually paid for the upgrade after the row exploded into the public.

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

However, fresh controversy erupted after details of the Whatsapp messages were made public in an exchange of letters between Mr Johnson and his standards watchdog Lord Geidt who slammed the fact he had not been told about them when he investigated the funding of the flat revamp but stuck by his finding that the PM had not breached the ministerial code.

At this morning’s Lobby briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked:

1. If Mr Johnson spoke to Mr Dowden at any point about the possibility of a Great Exhibition 2.0. He replied: “As is quite usual, when any suggestions such as this are put forward, it’s right that it is passed on to the relevant department to take forward.”

2. Pressed on whether Mr Johnson had had a conversation with Mr Dowden, or whether the PM’s team may have had any role in setting up the meeting between the Cabinet minister and Lord Brownlow, he added: “It would have been referred to DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) through the usual official channels.”

3. Asked if this had happened between civil servants or special advisers, he stated: “As I said it would have been passed over through the usual processes. I obviously would not go into the detail of those processes.”

4. On whether this was by the PM personally, special advisers or civil servants, he added: “As I have said it would have been passed over through the usual official channels.”He said the message would have been passed from No10 to DCMS.

5. But asked if it had been between the private offices in Downing Street and the department, he responded: “I would not obviously get into specific details but it will have been passed over by the usual official process.”

6. Asked if any member of the public submitting ideas to the Prime Minister could expect to get a meeting with a Cabinet minister or is it only those who also are funding his flat refurbishment, the spokesman said: “Ministers have a range of ideas and proposals put to them by various people through MPs, through other parties, and it’s right and proper that it’s passed on to the relevant department to take forward and in this instance it was decided not to take this any further.”

7. On whether the proposal from Lord Brownlow was not treated in any way differently from a proposal coming from a member of the public, he added: “Again, it was dealt with in the same way - a department will look at it and take a view on it.”

8. Asked if the meeting was arranged because the PM thought it was a good idea and because the decision was entirely on the merits of the scheme rather than who Lord Brownlow was, the spokesman said: “Oliver Dowden met with Lord Brownlow in the Royal Albert Hall on the joint proposal and again as you will see it has been declared in the DCMS transparency returns.

“It’s standard practice for any ideas to be referred to the lead department, for that department to look at them, to engage with stakeholders on them and to take a view and in this instance we decided not to take it any further forward.”

9. Asked if Mr Johnson had asked Mr Dowden why he met with the peer, he responded: “It’s routine that when proposals are put to departments that departments take them forward and that ministers regularly meet with stakeholders as part of their engagement on an array of issues.

“But the important thing on this one is that this was not taken forward.”

The Electoral Commission has fined the Conservatives £17,800 for not following the law over donations on the flat revamp funding.

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