Boris Johnson is facing yet more embarrassment over the costly refurbishment of his flat at No 11 Downing Street after it was reported that his “massively expensive” new wallpaper is already peeling loose and curling at the corners.
Westminster sources told The Daily Mail that specialist decorators have been recalled to the apartment to rehang the “hand-crafted” £840-a-roll gold furnishing, the work of Soane Britain interior decorator Lulu Lytle, who was spotted on site last October.
Asked about the decor disaster by The Independent on Wednesday, the prime minister’s official spokesman answered: “I’m not going to get into that sort of speculation.”
Mr Johnson spent much of April mired in sleaze allegations over the question of precisely who paid for the £88,000 refurbishment of the flat, which was overseen by his fiancee Carrie Symonds.
While the prime minister is permitted £30,000 per year from the public purse for the decoration of his residence, the exorbitant cost of the refit has prompted repeated allegations that Tory donor Lord Brownlow covered the outstanding £58,000 redecoration bill after it was originally met by Conservative Party headquarters.
Mr Johnson though has repeatedly denied wrongdoing over the affair while his spokespeople have insisted he paid the remainder of the balance out of his own pocket.
The PM’s own newly appointed independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Lord Geidt, a former private secretary to the Queen, is planning to release a long overdue register of ministerial interests by the end of May, which he has indicated will include his verdict and advice on the matter.
The Electoral Commission is also carrying out a formal investigation, saying it is “satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.
Downing Street says Mr Johnson is cooperating fully with the inquiry, which could demand to see relevant emails and WhatsApp messages and ultimately result in a £20,000 fine.
The scandal fed into wider concern about Tory cronyism, also drawing in former PM David Cameron’s busy lobbying activities on behalf of Greensill and the awarding of lucrative contracts for the production of personal protective equipment to friends of ministers, including health secretary Matt Hancock, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent poll for The Independent found that more than half of voters now associate Mr Johnson and his Cabinet with dishonesty and greed but that was not enough to hold them back at this month’s local council elections, when the party won a string of notable victories over Labour, most prominently a by-election win in “red wall” Hartlepool, thought to reflect public gratitude over the success of the vaccine rollout since the new year.
The Mail’s Downing Street contacts offered further details about the lavish new furnishings adorning Mr Johnson’s flat, including the revelation that its new sofa is upholstered in a ruby and emerald material known as Damascus Stripe, which its designer says is “based on a 19th century Syrian original pattern woven from cotton and silk”.
Its new curtains are meanwhile thought to be Soane Britain’s Tendril Vine pattern, also in emerald, a choice the newspaper attributes, gushingly, to Ms Symonds’ much-trumpeted passion for environmentalism.
The specific problem with the wallpaper, thought to be either Soane’s Old Gold or Yellow Gold design, is reportedly that it is heavier than the cheaper, lighter, mass-produced kind more commonly available in stores like John Lewis, famously maligned by one visitor to the flat who dismissed previous occupant Theresa May’s taste as a “John Lewis furniture nightmare”.
The wallpaper is rather haughtily described on Soane’s website as being “made in British mills and workshops, employing traditional methods such as block screen printing” in order to “capture the atmosphere of hand-crafted products”.
Mr Johnson was reportedly overheard last year complaining about the spiralling cost of the makeover, griping that Ms Symonds was “buying gold wallpaper... I can’t afford it”.
“It is quite funny if it wasn’t so serious. This massively expensive wallpaper doesn’t even stick to the wall,” Dame Margaret Hodge, former chairwoman of the public accounts committee, told The Evening Standard.
“But my question is: did Boris Johnson stick to the rules? Because the rules matter.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies