Downing Street flat refurbishment: PM cleared of misconducton May 28, 2021 at 2:44 pm

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But he “unwisely” let redecorations happen without enough “regard” to how funding worked, a report says.

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds

image copyrightEPA

Boris Johnson did not break the ministerial code over the funding of the Downing Street flat refurbishment, a report says.

But Lord Geidt, the prime minister’s adviser on standards, found he had “unwisely” allowed work to go ahead without “more rigorous regard” for how it would be paid for.

He confirmed that a Tory donor had settled an invoice for some costs.

But Mr Johnson had been unaware of this, Lord Geidt added.

No conflict of interest had arisen over the refurbishment, which began in spring when the prime minister was in hospital with Covid, he said.

The government said official advice had been followed “throughout”.

Separately, the Electoral Commission is carrying out an investigation into whether the Conservative Party broke the law on political donations regarding the funding of the flat.

The prime minister receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to spend on his living quarters.

But it is believed that the final bill for the Downing Street flat refurbishment, reportedly overseen by Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, came to around £90,000.

The prime minister has faced repeated questions over how this was financed, replying that he had funded the full costs.

But he has not previously said whether this meant paying the bills up-front or repaying money loaned to him or the government for the project.

Lord Geidt’s report into whether the ministerial code – governing standards in office – was broken confirmed that former Conservative Party vice-chairman Lord Brownlow had paid back an early invoice, without stating how large this had been.

It has been widely reported that the figure was £58,000.

The report said that “the record shows no evidence that the prime minister had been informed by” Lord Brownlow “that he had personally settled the total costs” of early works.

And, when the peer told government officials, they had not “acted on this information to the extent of informing the prime minister”, it said.

However, Lord Geidt – who was appointed last month as standard’s adviser – said Mr Johnson had, “unwisely, in my view, allowed the refurbishment of the apartment… to proceed without more rigorous regard for how this would be funded”.

Lord Geidt also said: “Under normal circumstances, a prime minister might reasonably be expected to be curious about the arrangements, and especially the financial arrangements that led to the refurbishment of his apartment at Downing Street.”

But “in the middle of a pandemic”, Mr Johnson “simply accepted” that a trust he was hoping to set up to handle the work “would be capable of satisfactorily resolving the situation without further interrogation”, he found.

Lord Geidt

image copyrightPA Media

And Lord Geidt concluded that “no conflict (or reasonably perceived conflict) arises” from the involvement of Lord Brownlow or the Conservative Party in the Downing Street renovation.

He said of Lord Brownlow that “there is no evidence that he acted with anything other than altruistic and philanthropic motives”.

Responding to the report, a Downing Street spokesperson said it showed the prime minister had “acted in accordance with the ministerial code at all times”.

The spokesperson added: “Cabinet Office officials were engaged and informed throughout and official advice was followed.

“Other than works funded through the annual allowance, the costs of the wider refurbishment of the flat are not being financed by taxpayers and have been settled by the prime minister personally.”

If a politician or party accepts money from a donor – either as a gift or as a loan – they are expected to make that information public.

The Electoral Commission is investigating whether this rule was followed by the Conservative Party in relation to the Downing Street refurbishment.

If the commission finds it was not, it has the power to issue a fine of up to £20,000.

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