PM ‘unwisely’ allowed refurbishment without ‘more rigorous regard’ for funding

·4-min read

Prime Minister Boris Johnson “unwisely” allowed the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat to go ahead without “more rigorous regard for how this would be funded”.

Lord Geidt, the new adviser on ministerial standards, released his first report on ministers’ interests on Friday, after months of delay.

He said Mr Johnson had not broken the ministerial code but might reasonably have been expected to be curious about the financial arrangements.

Lord Geidt also found there had been a “significant failing” from officials in how “rigorous” they were at examining the idea of setting up a trust to fund renovations to Downing Street.

The PM can use an annual public grant of up to £30,000 to decorate his Downing Street home, but it has been reported the renovations at No 11, where Mr Johnson lives with his fiancee Carrie Symonds, reached up to £200,000.

There had been discussions about a Downing Street Trust being set up to pay for the work, before legal advice received in June 2020 “raised doubts” about whether such a body “would be capable of dealing with costs associated with the private residences”, said the adviser.

Mr Johnson’s former chief aide, Dominic Cummings, claimed in April the Prime Minister had planned to have Tory donors cover the costs of the refurbishment, a move he deemed “unethical, foolish, [and] possibly illegal”.

But Lord Geidt found Mr Johnson had not been aware that in lieu of any such trust to fund the refurbishment being set up, Tory donor Lord Brownlow had been involved in settling the bill.

His report said: “By the late autumn of 2020, it was apparent that a trust capable of meeting the original objects (including the costs of refurbishing the No 11 Downing Street residence) was still likely to be many months off.

“On October 20 2020, Lord Brownlow confirmed to Cabinet Office officials, including by subsequently ensuring that the minutes properly recorded the fact, that he had the day before settled an invoice for the No 11 Downing Street residence refurbishment works directly with the supplier.

“Cabinet Office officials appear not to have acted on this information to the extent of informing the Prime Minister, let alone offering him advice on his private interests.

“Moreover, despite the Prime Minister and Lord Brownlow having some limited contact during the following three months, the record shows no evidence that the Prime Minister had been informed by Lord Brownlow that he had personally settled the total costs.”

Boris Johnson and carie Symonds
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds in Downing Street (Victoria Jones/PA)

Lord Geidt said “the Prime Minister, unwisely, in my view, allowed the refurbishment of the apartment at No 11 Downing Street to proceed without more rigorous regard for how this would be funded”.

But he said the PM knew “nothing about” payments for the refurbishment work, which started while he was in hospital with coronavirus, until reports in the media surfaced.

He said: “I have also spoken … to the Prime Minister who confirms that he knew nothing about such payments (made by Lord Brownlow) until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.

“At that point, the Prime Minister immediately sought the necessary advice about his interests and, as a consequence, settled the full amount himself on March 8 2021.”

Lord Geidt added: “It is clear from the record that while a serious and genuine endeavour, the (Downing Street) Trust was not subjected to a scheme of rigorous project management by officials.

“Given the level of the Prime Minister’s expectations for the trust to deliver on the objects he had set, this was a significant failing.”

And he said although Mr Johnson had not broken the ministerial code, that: “Under normal circumstances, a Prime Minister might reasonably be expected to be curious about the arrangements, and especially the financial arrangements that led to the refurbishment of his apartment at Downing Street.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the current Prime Minister simply accepted that the trust would be capable of satisfactorily resolving the situation without further interrogation.”

A No 10 spokesman said: “Lord Geidt’s independent report shows the Prime Minister acted in accordance with the ministerial code at all times.

“The Prime Minister has made a declaration in his List of Ministerial Interests, as advised by Lord Geidt.

“Cabinet Office officials were engaged and informed throughout and official advice was followed.

“Other than works funded through the annual allowance, the costs of the wider refurbishment of the flat are not being financed by taxpayers and have been settled by the Prime Minister personally.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said it was “staggering that the Prime Minister could rack up a £200,000 bill for a luxury refurbishment yet have no knowledge of how it was eventually paid”.

“The Government has at long last admitted that a Tory donor has been funding the Prime Minister’s private life,” she said.

“We know this isn’t the only aspect of the Prime Minister’s lifestyle that may be being funded by Tory donors – No 10 must now come clean about how far this goes.

“Any government documents relating to Lord Brownlow should be published to prove that no conflict of interest exists.”

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