Ben Wallace defends Number 10 refurbishment: 'The PM has paid the bill'

Cabinet minister says ‘I don’t know’ if Tory donor lent cash for Boris Johnson’s flat facelift

Ben Wallace refuses three times to rule out cash coming originally from party funds – after donor said he gave £58,000

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 26 April 2021 10:04

A Cabinet minister has admitted he does not know if Boris Johnson received a loan from a Tory donor for the lavish redecoration of his Downing Street flat, deepening the controversy.

As the Electoral Commission was urged to launch a full investigation, Ben Wallace refused three times to rule out the cash coming – originally – from party funds.

“I don’t know,” the defence secretary acknowledged at one point – before going on to insist that the prime minister had now paid the bill, believed to run to tens of thousands of pounds.

The comment will fuel the row over the refurbishment, after a leaked email revealed Tory donor Lord Brownlow had said he gave £58,000 to cover “payments already made” last October.

On Friday, the Cabinet Office said a £30,000 taxpayer maintenance allowance had been used, with “any costs of wider refurbishment met by the prime minister’.

Meanwhile, Mr Wallace did deny the explosive claim that Mr Johnson raged “no more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, in a No 10 meeting last October.

The allegation, made in the Daily Mail, appears to be the latest shot fired in the vitriolic war of words between the prime minister and Dominic Cummings, his ousted chief aide.

“I know that is just nonsense, that he’s denied it, No 10 have denied it,” Mr Wallace told BBC Breakfast news.

A Downing Street spokesperson told The Independent: “This is just another lie.”

The defence secretary added: “I have known him personally for many years and the idea that he is going to go around saying things like that is just wrong.”

However, it was quickly pointed out that the alleged choice of words is strikingly similar to when Mr Johnson said war-torn Libyan had bright future, once “they clear the dead bodies” away.

The remark is said to have been made after a meeting with Michael Gove and other senior ministers, before the government – finally – imposed a second national lockdown.

“Michael said that if he didn’t impose a second lockdown there would be a catastrophe,” a “source close to Mr Gove” told the paper.

“Hospitals would be over-run, people would be turned away from A&E and people would be dying in hospital corridors and hospital car parks.”

Mr Johnson is said to have agreed to the second lockdown, but then made the “bodies” comment as he insisted he would not agree to a third.

Mr Cummings is said to have “documents and emails” to back up his allegations against his former boss – which could undermine No 10’s attempts to portray him as a disgruntled ex-employee.

On Monday afternoon, the UK’s most senior civil servant faces a grilling on his involvement, including over the so-called “chatty rat” leak of plans for the second lockdown.

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, is expected to say that he has not cleared Mr Cummings – contrary to the aide’s blog last week – and that his inquiry into responsibility is still “live”.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments