Boris Johnson ‘asked for cash’ for flat refurbishment – but later claimed he knew nothing about payments

Labour alleges revelation in watchdog’s report shows prime minister ‘lied to the British public’ over controversy

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 09 December 2021 13:27
Comments
Can Boris Johnson weather the storm of sleaze allegations? | Behind The Headlines

Boris Johnson personally asked for more funds for his flat refurbishment – despite claiming, three months later, that he knew nothing about any payments, an investigation has found.

The astonishing revelation – in a report fining the Tories for breaking electoral law – triggered a Labour allegation that the prime minister has “lied to the British public” over the controversy.

It will also heap pressure on Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser to reopen his inquiry into the redecorations, after it concluded there had been no breach of the ministerial code.

In May, Christopher Geidt reported there was “no evidence” that Mr Johnson had been told by Tory donor Lord Brownlow that he had paid the bill for the refurbishment.

The conclusion was based on the prime minister’s testimony that “he knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021”.

But a fresh report by the Electoral Commission says that – in November 2020 – he “messaged Lord Brownlow via WhatsApp” to ask him to “authorise” further redecorations.

Furthermore, in early December, “Lord Brownlow confirmed to the prime minister that he had approved further works”, the watchdog states.

When, on 12 February, the donor paid up a further £13,295.40, the donor “sent a detailed update on the proposed trust to the prime minister”.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, seized on the clear contradiction, alleging: “The prime minister must now explain why he lied to the British public, saying he didn’t know who was behind No 11 flat refurb – all the while he was Whatsapping the donor asking for more money.

“Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He’s not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers.”

The Commission report brings allegations of sleaze back centre-stage, as Mr Johnson is dogged by allegations of misleading the public over last year’s No 10 Christmas parties.

For months, he and other ministers refused to confirm that the Tory party, and then a major donor, originally funded the lavish redecorations.

Dominic Cummings alleged the “plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations”.

There is now the growing likelihood of a potentially hugely-damaging investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards into the flat controversy.

The Geidt report said, in May, that Mr Johnson “settled the full amount himself on 8 March 2021” – having only learned of the way the works were being funded the month before – a claim now undermined.

The Commission report also leaves questions unanswered about how Mr Johnson – who has protested about his diminished earnings in No 10 – paid the bill, which totalled £112,549.12.

“Any payments between the prime minister and the supplier are outside the scope of our investigation,” it states.

But Mr Johnson’s spokesman, asked if the prime minister had lied to Lord Geidt, replied: “No” – arguing he had known he was handling the funding, but not that he was the source of the money.

He had got in touch with Lord Brownlow, in November 2020, because he was the administrator of the blind trust funding the works, despite the Commission report stating “the trust had not been formed” at that time.

“As set out in Lord Geidt’s report, the prime minister was not aware of the details of the underlying donor until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021, when he immediately sought the necessary advice about his interests, and as a consequence settled the full amount himself,” the spokesman said.

“Lord Brownlow was appointed by the PM as chair of the trust on 23 June and Lord Geidt’s report notes that Lord Brownlow behaved in a confidential manner, consistent with his own experience of blind trusts.”

Mr Cummings seized on the report as proof that “obviously PM lied to Geidt” and accusing the adviser of “Old school Yes Minister tactics”.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminister, said: “Not only did [Johnson] breach electoral law – he lied about it too.

Alleging the prime minister and the truth “are strangers”, he said: “He simply cannot be allowed to remain as prime minister. He either resigns or he needs to be removed.”

The Conservative party suggested it will challenge the Commission’s findings on what it called “a technical breach of reporting requirements”.

“We are considering whether to appeal this decision and will make a decision within 28 working days,” it said.

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