Ex-civil service chief lashes Boris Johnson over £58,000 Downing St flat renovation

Boris Johnson faces the threat of suspension from the Commons if he is found to have failed to register a £60,000 Tory contribution to refurbishing his Downing Street flat.

The PM has already been put on notice he risks a ‘serious sanction’ after a report two years ago condemned his ‘repeated’ breaches of Parliamentary rules.

Conservative chiefs are believed to have secretly approved a £58,000 payment to the Cabinet Office in July last year to cover the works – which was on top of the £30,000 annual sum for upkeep that the taxpayer foots.

However, the government has insisted that the premier has now funded the overhaul himself. Downing Street has refused to deny reports that Mr Johnson secured a loan from a Tory donor – believed to be financier Lord Brownlow – to pay for the decor.

But experts say that should have been declared in the MPs’ register of interests within a month. 

Mr Johnson has previously been berated by the Commons standards watchdog for repeatedly failing to declare financial interests. 

In a report in Spring 2019 – shortly before he became PM – the cross-party committee said: ‘Should we conclude in future that Mr Johnson has committed any further breaches of the rules on registration, we will regard this as a matter which may call for more serious sanction.’

Beyond apologies, potential punishments could include suspension. 

There is also speculation that if a donor footed the cost, Mr Johnson could face a significant tax bill because HMRC would consider it a benefit in kind.

Former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell said transparency over the murky arrangements was ‘very late’, warning that PMs need to ‘set an example’ and ‘obey the rules’.   

Boris Johnson, pictured with fiancee Carrie Symonds, faces having to declare how the costly Downing Street flat refurb was funded

Boris Johnson, pictured with fiancee Carrie Symonds, faces having to declare how the costly Downing Street flat refurb was funded

Boris Johnson, pictured with fiancee Carrie Symonds, faces having to declare how the costly Downing Street flat refurb was funded

Mr Johnson has previously been berated by the Commons standards watchdog for repeatedly failing to declare financial interests. Pictured, a committee report from Spring 2019

Mr Johnson has previously been berated by the Commons standards watchdog for repeatedly failing to declare financial interests. Pictured, a committee report from Spring 2019

Mr Johnson has previously been berated by the Commons standards watchdog for repeatedly failing to declare financial interests. Pictured, a committee report from Spring 2019

Lord O'Donnell said transparency over the murky arrangements was 'very late', warning that PMs need to 'set an example' and 'obey the rules'

Lord O'Donnell said transparency over the murky arrangements was 'very late', warning that PMs need to 'set an example' and 'obey the rules'

Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings

Lord O’Donnell (left) said transparency over the murky arrangements was ‘very late’, warning that PMs need to ‘set an example’ and ‘obey the rules’. Dominic Cummings (right) says he warned the PM in 2020 he could be breaking the law if he asked Tory donors to pay for the refurbishment

PM was put on warning by Commons standards committee in 2019 after ‘repeated’ breaches 

Boris Johnson has previously been put on warning by the Commons standards watchdog over ‘repeated’ failures to declare financial interests.

The standards commissioner Kathryn Stone has pointed to a series of breaches by Mr Johnson. 

He was three months late registering joint ownership of a London property with then-wife Marina in March 2017. 

In December 2018, Mr Johnson made a grovelling apology in the Commons for his ‘over-casual attitude’ to the rules that meant he declared almost £53,000 in outside earnings outside the 28-day deadline.

Mr Johnson insisted it was an ‘inadvertent’ mistake but told MPs he was making a ‘full and unreserved apology’.

Most of the payments were for royalties on Mr Johnson’s books – the most prominent of which is a biography of Winston Churchill.

One was for the first payment he received from the Daily Telegraph for his £275,000 a year column. 

During the commissioner’s investigation, in October 2018, Mr Johnson gave an assurance that his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests was complete.

But that turned out to be ‘inaccurate’, as he had omitted to list part-ownership of a Somerset property.

He took a 20 per cent share worth more than £100,000 in the property in late January 2018, and should have registered it with the authorities within 28 days.

But he failed to list the interest until the middle of January 2019. 

The standards report in April 2019 noted that there was a ‘pattern of behaviour’.

And the cross-party committee said: ‘Should we conclude in future that Mr Johnson has committed any further breaches of the rules on registration, we will regard this as a matter which may call for more serious sanction.’ 

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Whitehall sources have told the Mail Mr Johnson may be forced publicly to declare exactly how the costly refurbishment was funded.

One source said further details were likely to be revealed in an updated register of ministerial interests, which could be released as early as this week. 

But Mr Johnson first has to appoint a new adviser on ministerial standards – a post that has been vacant since Sir Alex Allen resigned in November in protest at the PM’s refusal to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel over bullying allegations.

The appointment was due to be announced last week but the preferred candidate is said to be ‘wobbling’ about whether to accept the post.

The ministerial register is separate to that produced by Parliament. 

It would not typically be used for declaring donations to ministers – although there are signs that Downing Street might argue that is the appropriate place to list the flat arrangements.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case yesterday confirmed Mr Johnson had wanted to set up a charitable trust more than 12 months ago to pay for the flat’s refit. 

But he said it was now clear that it would be illegal for a charitable trust to pay for the upkeep of private quarters.

He refused to say whether political donations had been accepted to help fund the project.

Mr Johnson also ducked the question yesterday, telling reporters: ‘If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.’  

The Cabinet Office informed parliament on Friday that the PM has now paid the bill for his renovations. 

A senior Tory told the Mail he had been forced to take out a loan to settle the bill. 

Labour has called for the review into how the refurbishments of his Downing Street flat were financed to be expanded to investigate whether the public was misled over the renovations.

Last month Mr Johnson’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton denied any party funds were being used for refurbishments.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner urged Mr Case to expand his review to investigate the comments.

She urged him to probe ‘whether the former press secretary knowingly misled journalists and the public, or was misled herself by senior members of the Government who seem intent on a cover-up’.

A No 10 spokeswoman carefully used the present tense in response to the attack this evening, referring to the use of funds ‘this year’.

How the controversy over the Downing Street flat refurb unfolded 

July 2019: Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, pictured, move into the four-bedroom flat above No11 Downing Street.

Like previous PMs, the couple choose to live there rather than the No10 flat as it is bigger. 

Ms Symonds is reportedly keen to get rid of the ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’ left by Theresa May.

April 2020: The couple’s son Wilf is born. 

July 2020: The Conservative Party pays £58,000 to the Cabinet Office for the cost of refurbishing the flat.

October 2020: Tory donor Lord Brownlow emails party chairman Ben Elliot and head of fundraising Mike Chattey, saying he has given £58,000 to cover payments ‘the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed ‘Downing Street Trust’. 

Lord Brownlow says he chairs the trust, which reportedly planned to preserve the famous street’s heritage and decor.

Another gift of £15,000 was for general party funds, discloses the email, obtained from Downing Street sources. This was duly declared to the Electoral Commission watchdog, in accordance with transparency rules.

Crucially, the email – also sent to Conservative chief executive Darren Mott – shows a second donation of £58,000 was to pay for new decor for Mr Johnson and fiancee Carrie Symonds’s flat at 11 Downing Street.

This has not yet been declared to the Electoral Commission.

The email was marked ‘Donation’ and reads: ‘Hi Mike … further to our conversation I am making a donation to the Party.

‘It includes the £15,000 you and I have agreed – plus £58,000 to cover the payments the Party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed “Downing Street Trust” – of which I have been made chairman, as you know.’

A second leaked email from Lord Brownlow in June 2020 shows the decision to set up the trust was taken by Mr Johnson as long as ten months ago.

March 6, 2021: The Daily Mail reveals that Mr Johnson wanted Tory donors to contribute to the cost of redecorating the flat, and that the party tried to launch a cover-up. No 10 insists there has been no wrongdoing.

March 20, 2021: The Electoral Commission quizzes Tory chiefs over the funding of the makeover and has asked Mr Elliot to explain whether the Conservative Party complied with laws on political donations.

April 21, 2021: The Mail publishes emails sent by Lord Brownlow to Mr Elliot.

April 22, 2021: It emerges that Whitehall’s most senior mandarin, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, is investigating how the refurbishment of Mr Johnson’s flat was paid for.

April 23, 2021: The Cabinet Office announces that beyond basic taxpayer-funded work on the flat any wider refurbishment costs ‘have been met by the PM personally’. No 10 does not give details of how Mr Johnson paid the £58,000.

Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings says he warned the PM in 2020 he could be breaking the law if he asked Tory donors to pay for the refurbishment, calling the proposal ‘unethical, foolish and possible illegal’.

Mr Cummings claims he refused to help arrange any such payments and, as a result of him expressing his opposition to the idea, Mr Johnson stopped discussing moves with him to get donors to fund the flat refurbishment.

Mr Cummings stated: ‘The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.

‘I refused to help him organise these payments. My knowledge about them is therefore limited.’ 

April 26, 2021: Mr Case tells MPs the idea of setting up a trust to fund the upkeep of Downing Street has been looked into but it could not pay for refurbishments to the Prime Minister’s flat.

April 27, 2021: Former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell wades into the row saying Mr Johnson is ‘very late’ declaring the arrangements and should be ‘setting an example’.

A standards committee report from April 2019 is highlighted warning Mr Johnson that he faces a ‘serious sanction’ if he breaches declaration rules again.

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‘Any costs of wider refurbishment this year beyond those provided for by the annual allowance have been met by the Prime Minister personally. Conservative Party funds are not being used for this.’ 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lord O’Donnell said if Mr Johnson wanted to focus on policy rather than a sleaze row the best thing was to ‘obey the rules’. 

‘The issue is really whether we expect our MPs, ministers and PMs to obey the rules. If there are a set of rules presumably they are there for a good reason,’ the former Cabinet Secretary said.

‘They can be changed if people think they are wrong. But if they are there we would expect people, and ministers in particular, to obey those rules. They are required to under the ministerial code.

‘Transparency is always a good thing.’

Asked whether it mattered given there does not appear to be any taxpayer money involved, the peer said: ‘We are very late, aren’t we. Let’s be honest in this case… there should be a set-up to ensure that these things happen.

‘PMs have to set an example and therefore they should abide by the rules. I think that is really important.’

He added: ‘The simple way of not being worried about all this is just obey all the rules.’

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said all declarations will be made in the ‘usual way’. 

In a round of interviews, she said it was ‘no surprise’ that Mr Johnson wanted to make changes to the flat as he has a young family.

‘The Prime Minister has probably spent more time in the Number 10 flat than prime ministers normally would,’ she told LBC.

‘Also, the birth of his young son, having his family there, so I think it’s no surprise if people with a different sort of family atmosphere moving into a private residence in Number 10 want to make changes.’

Asked if she would spend £5,900 on an armchair, Ms Coffey said: ‘The point is that the Prime Minister has paid for those.

‘I think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to spend their money how they wish, when they are considering their family in the residence where they spend a lot of time.’ 

Mr Johnson’s sister Rachel yesterday defended the overhaul of the ‘light and airy’ flat shared by the PM and his fiancee Carrie Symonds. 

‘They have a baby about to turn one and maybe it needed some spiffing up,’ she said.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: ‘All reportable donations to the Conservative Party are correctly declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law.

‘Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in Government transparency returns.’

Lord Brownlow did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Johnson has previously been put on notice by the Commons standards watchdog over ‘repeated’ failures to declare financial interests.

A report in April 2019 on his late declaration of an interest in a property in Somerset noted that there was a ‘pattern of behaviour’.

Standards commissioner Kathryn Stone pointed to a series of breaches by Mr Johnson.  

He was three months late registering his joint ownership of London property in March 2017. 

He was then eleven months late registering his interest the Somerset property.

She said in October 2018 Mr Johnson gave an assurance that his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests was complete – but that turned out to be ‘inaccurate’.

The cross-party committee said: ‘Should we conclude in future that Mr Johnson has committed any further breaches of the rules on registration, we will regard this as a matter which may call for more serious sanction.’

In December 2018, Mr Johnson apologised in the Commons for his ‘over-casual attitude’ to the rules that meant he declared almost £53,000 in outside earnings late.

Mr Johnson insisted it was an ‘inadvertent’ mistake but told MPs he was making a ‘full and unreserved apology’.

The former foreign secretary insisted he had no intention of misleading the House when he failed to report the earnings inside a 28-day deadline.

Most of the payments were for royalties on Mr Johnson’s books – the most prominent of which is a biography of Winston Churchill.

One was for the first payment he received from the Daily Telegraph for his £275,000 a year column. The inquiry was triggered by a complaint about this payment after he resigned as Foreign Secretary in July 2018.

Mr Johnson insisted to an inquiry the breaches of the rules were accidental but the Standards Committee said he took an ‘over-casual attitude’ and ordered him to apologise.








There is a labyrinthine money trail used for the cost of the £58,000 renovations. Pictured, Lulu Lytle furnishings

There is a labyrinthine money trail used for the cost of the £58,000 renovations. Pictured, Lulu Lytle furnishings

There is a labyrinthine money trail used for the cost of the £58,000 renovations. Pictured, Lulu Lytle furnishings

It is thought the Cabinet Office forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle

It is thought the Cabinet Office forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle

It is thought the Cabinet Office forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle

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