politics

Boris Johnson accused of lying to probe that cleared him over flat refurb scandal



Boris Johnson was today accused of lying to a probe which cleared him of breaking rules over the refurbishment of his Downing street flat.

The Conservative Party yesterday was fined £17,800 following a long-awaited election watchdog probe into the costly makeover.

The Electoral Commission’s investigation of the scandal, published yesterday the party had failed to declare donations worth £52,800 from a firm owned by Lord Brownlow.

And the report reveals the Prime Minister WhatsApped the Tory peer in October 2020, begging him for more cash towards the costly makeover of the home he shares with wife Carrie and son Wilfred.

But that conflicts with Mr Johnson’s claims to his own sleaze advisor, Lord Geidt, that he did not know the source of funding for the flat until months later in February 2021, in a probe that cleared him of responsibility for the scandal.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson’s sleaze is corroding the office of Prime Minister.

“The Paterson scandal, illicit Christmas parties in Number 10 and now dodgy payments from a multimillionaire Conservative Party donor to fund his luxury Downing Street refurb.

“It is one rule for them, and one rule for the rest of us, and Boris Johnson is at the heart of it.

“It is right that the Electoral Commission has fined the Conservative Party but the Prime Minister must now explain why he lied to the British public saying he didn’t know who was behind No11 flat refurb – all the while he was whatsapping the donor asking for more money.”







The flat above Number 11 Downing Street
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Image:

Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

She added: “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.”

A separate investigation by Lord Geidt, the Independent Advisor on Ministerial Interests, found Mr Johnson had “unwisely” embarked on the refurbishment without knowing how it would be paid for.

Lord Geidt said the PM had assumed a charitable Trust that didn’t exist could fund the works.

When it fell through, the probe claimed, Lord Brownlow and Conservative HQ each footed bills – and the PM wasn’t even aware until the media picked up the story in February. Mr Johnson then “settled the full amount himself”.

But details in the Electoral Commission’s report conflict with Lord Geidt’s version of events.

It reveals WhatsApp messages between Mr Johnson and Lord Brownlow months earlier in November 2020, where he begged him for extra cash.

The report says Mr Johnson personally sent a message to Lord Brownlow asking for more cash for “further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence.”

Lord Brownlow agreed, and went on to pay a further £59,747.40 to the suppler – bringing the total cost of the refurbishment to £112,549.12.

Lord Geidt’s report read: “I have tested the assertions of Lord Brownlow and the relevant political and government officials that at no point in the eight months until late February 2021, as media reports were emerging, was the Prime Minister made aware of either the fact or the method of the costs of refurbishing the apartment having been paid.

“I have spoken to these individuals in person; they have confirmed to me that these assertions are correct. In particular, Lord Brownlow behaved in a confidential manner consistent with his own experience of blind trusts.

“I have also spoken in similar terms to the Prime Minister who confirms that he knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.”

Tory chiefs tried to claim the £53k sum was “not a donation to the party”, and was in fact “a donation to the Prime Minister via the party”, or “a ‘gift to the nation’”, or “a ministerial matter”, or “the repayment of a loan”, the Commission said.

But the watchdog found electoral laws on the publishing of donations had “not been followed” and there had been “serious failings in the party’s compliance systems.”

The party declared just £15,000 of a £67,801.72 donation from Lord Brownlow’s firm, Huntswood Associates.

Lord Brownlow told the Commission the remaining £52,802.72 was to cover an earlier payment made by the Cabinet Office – which had paid three invoices totalling the same amount for the costly refurb.

The makeover is said to have been inspired by designer Lulu Lytle, and include £840-a-roll wallpaper, a £9,800 Baby Bear sofa and a £3,000 Lily Drum table.

There was a £30,000 cap on taxpayer cash contributing to the work – so the PM had to find the cash himself, or from donors. But there were months of questions about where the money came from.

Number 10 has consistently refused to reveal the original source of the funds for the refurb – stating Mr Johnson had “covered the cost” and “settled the full amount” for the work himself.







Boris Johnson and wife Carrie
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Image:

Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street)

The probe’s report confirms the Party planned to form a “Downing Street trust”, with Lord Brownlow as chair, to accept cash from wealthy donors in order to do up his residence.

But this plan was scrapped after details appeared in the media.

The probe revealed questions were asked about the donation in October 2020 by a junior member of staff in the Conservative Party treasurer’s office.

But a senior fundraising officer told them the £15,000 related to “events” and the rest was for “something else…don’t worry.”

In March 2021, the Cabinet Office confirmed in an internal email that the Prime Minister had personally paid the supplier the full amount.

And in the course of March, Lord Brownlow’s payments were returned to him.

But because Lord Brownlow had paid the second, £60,000 worth of invoices directly to the supplier at the request of Mr Johnson, the Electoral Commission did not conclude they counted as a “donation” under their remit.

The report reads: “[Lord Brownlow’s] authorisation was sought and given, and he paid the invoices. There is no evidence of any agreement that these expenses were incurred by, or would be paid by, the party.”

Louise Edwards, Director of Regulation at the Electoral Commission, said: “Our investigation into the Conservative Party found that the laws around the reporting and recording of donations were not followed.

“We know that voters have concerns about the transparency of funding of political parties. Reporting requirements are in place so that the public can see where money is coming from, inaccurate reporting risks undermining trust in the system.

“The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems.

“As a large and well-resourced political party that employs compliance and finance experts, and that has substantial sums of money going through its accounts, the Conservative Party should have sufficiently robust systems in place to meet its legal reporting requirements.”

The Commission fined the Conservative Party £16,250 for failing to declare Lord Brownlow’s initial donation, and a further £1,550 for inaccurate record keeping.

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “The Conservative Party has received notification from the Electoral Commission that, in their judgement, the manner in which a payment was reported represented a technical breach of reporting requirements under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

“We have been in constant contact with the Electoral Commission with regards to this matter and have sought their advice as to how the transaction should be reported since it was made.

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

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