Boris Johnson dodges question of who initially paid for Downing Street renovation

Boris Johnson refuses to deny flat refurb loan from Tory donor

Starmer brands prime minister ‘Major Sleaze’ in House of Commons bust-up

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
@andywoodcock
Wednesday 28 April 2021 13:09
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Boris Johnson repeatedly dodged questions in parliament over who initially paid for the £88,000 refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, failing to deny that some of the money came from Tory donor Lord Brownlow.

In a stormy session of prime minister’s questions just an hour after the Electoral Commission announced it was launching an investigation into the “cash for curtains” allegations, Keir Starmer asked the PM four times to say who originally paid the costs beyond the £30,000 covered by the taxpayer.

But Mr Johnson four times failed to answer the question, instead telling the House of Commons that he had now paid the bill himself.

He failed to deny that Lord Brownlow initially put forward the money, as suggested in a leaked email from last autumn.

Sir Keir told MPs: “The prime minister hasn’t answered the question. He knows he hasn’t answered the question. He never answers the question.”

And - in a riposte to Mr Johnson’s Captain Hindsight nickname for him - the Labour leader branded the prime minsiter Major Sleaze and accused him of leading a government “mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal”.

Mr Johnson repeatedly attempted to divert the debate away from the question of whether he had received funds from a wealthy donor or the Conservative party to renovate the 11 Downing Street flat which he shares with fiancee Carrie Symonds.

And he accused the Labour leader of “going on and on about wallpaper when I’ve told him umpteen times that I paid for it.”

Starmer retorted that the Electoral Commission had said there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”. He demanded to know whether the PM believed any laws had been broken in relation to the flat.

Johnson replied: “No, I don’t.”

Sir Keir said: “Can I remind the prime minister of the Nolan Principles which are meant to govern the behaviour of those in public office.

“They are these - selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. 

“Instead, what do we get from this prime minister and this Conservative government?

“Dodgy contracts, jobs for mates and cash for access.

“And who’s at the heart of it? The prime minister, Major Sleaze sitting there

“Meanwhile crime is going up, NHS waiting lists are at record levels, millions of people are worried about their jobs, including Liberty Steel.

“Don’t the British people deserve a prime minister they can trust, and a government that isn’t mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal?”

Mr Johnson insisted that voters were not interested in the details of the renovation of his flat, and accused Labour of failing to ask questions about issues like the vaccine roll-out, housing or the economy “because they have absolutely nothing to say”.

But Sir Keir said: “He talks of priorities. What's he spending his time doing?

“This is a prime minister who, during the pandemic, was nipping out of meetings to choose wallpaper at £840 a roll. Last week, he spent his time phoning journalists to moan about his old friend Dominic Cummings.

“And he tells the civil service to find out who paid for the redecoration of his flat. The cabinet secretary has been asked to investigate who paid for the refurbishment of his flat.

“Why doesn’t the prime minister tell him? That would be the end of the investigation.”

Just moments before the clash, Downing Street announced that the PM had appointed the Queen’s former private secretary Lord Geidt as his new independent adviser on ministerial standards to replace Sir Alex Allan who quit five months ago after Mr Johnson overturned his bullying verdict on Priti Patel.

The crossbench peer will carry out an immediate review of the funding of the apartment refit, and advise Mr Johnson on whether any gifts, loans or donations should be declared.

But Mr Johnson resisted pressure to give his new adviser powers to initiate investigations. And the PM held onto his power to determine whether ministers should be sacked if they are found to have breached their code of conduct.

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