Boris Johnson has “recklessly” embarked on a renovation of his official Downing Street apartment without knowing how he would be paid, according to a report which found a “significant breach” on the part of the authorities.
Conservative peer and party donor David Brownlow and the Conservative Party, who initially stepped in to settle the bills, said the report of new independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Christopher Geidt.
However, Lord Geidt said that given factors such as the ongoing Covid pandemic and Brownlow’s status as a party supporter, he was happy that “no conflict (or reasonably perceived conflict) arose due to these interests ”.
Johnson did not violate the ministerial code, Geidt ruled in an appendix published with the very late list of ministers’ interests, and the interests had now been correctly declared by the prime minister.
But criticizing Johnson, he said: “The Prime Minister – recklessly, in my opinion – allowed the refurbishment of the 11 Downing Street apartment without more rigorous consideration of how it would be funded. “
The confusion apparently arose because after Johnson became Prime Minister in the summer of 2019 it was agreed that a blind trust should be set up to pay for renovations in excess of the amount of £ 30,000 per year provided officially.
The renovations began last April, while Johnson was in hospital with coronavirus, and although he was told the trust could cover “some if not all” of the costs, the Cabinet Office initially paid the bill, shifting the load to the Conservative Party. Geidt said there was “no evidence” Johnson was “aware” of any of these transactions.
Legal advice the government received in mid-June then raised doubts as to whether the trust could actually cover the costs, with Brownlow appointing its chairman in July.
In October, Brownlow paid the money “directly” to a supplier; no figures were given for costs, which have reportedly reached £ 200,000. In April, the Daily Mail published details of an email from Brownlow in which he said he was donating £ 58,000 ‘to cover payments the party has already made on behalf of’ Downing Street Trust ‘, which will soon be formed. ”.
Geidt said he discovered Johnson knew nothing about payments made by Brownlow “until immediately before” the newspaper articles in February of this year. Johnson then “paid the full amount himself” on March 8.
Scathing in his criticisms of how the trust work went, Geidt said he was “not subject to a rigorous project management system by officials”, calling it “a failure. significant”.
“Cabinet officials do not appear to have acted on this information to the point of informing the prime minister, let alone offering him advice on his private interests,” he wrote. While Johnson and Brownlow were in touch during the months concerned, there was no indication that the peer told the Prime Minister he had footed the bill.
Under normal circumstances, Geidt wrote, one can reasonably expect a prime minister to be curious about the arrangements, and in particular the financial arrangements that led to the renovation of his Downing Street apartment. But amid the pandemic, Johnson “simply agreed” that the trust would cover the costs and was “badly served” by officials who did not tell him it did.
Although interest arises from paying Brownlow, given his status as a conservative peer, paying the bill has not placed him “under an obligation different from the relationship he already has as party leader.” , adds the report.
When Johnson took notice, Geidt said, he “took steps to make the relevant statements and seek advice” and therefore did not violate the ministerial code, the set of rules establishing the appropriate actions for ministers.
The list of private interests of ministers is usually updated every six months, but the previous version was released in July of last year. Such a significant delay in releasing what is usually a routine ledger of things such as stocks held and charitable publications created particular interest due to the many unanswered questions about how Johnson funded his lifestyle. at n ° 10.
Separately, the Election Commission said last month it had opened a formal investigation into the payment method for the renovations, saying there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect that several offenses could have been committed.
Other unanswered questions include whether the Prime Minister has received assistance, even on an interim basis, with childcare for his son, Wilfred, and reported sending organic meals and other foods to No.10 by a company owned by another large Conservative donor.
As a backbench MP Johnson was free to earn large sums outside Parliament, including £ 22,000 a month for a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph, and it has been widely reported that he is finding the paycheck from the Prime Minister by just over £ 150,000 insufficient.
Part of the delay is due to the fact that the list is officially overseen by the government’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, and the former incumbent Alex Allen resigned in November last year after Johnson resigned refused to take action against Priti Patel when an investigation found evidence that the Home Secretary had intimidated officials. Geidt, who was the Queen’s private secretary for 10 years and previously an army intelligence officer, was installed earlier this month.