Questions have been raised about the future of the prime minister’s standards adviser, after an official investigation contradicted Boris Johnson’s claim he knew nothing about how the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat was being funded.
The Electoral Commission said Mr Johnson sent Lord Brownlow, the multimillionaire director of Huntswood, a WhatsApp message in November 2020 requesting additional money from a trust set up to fund the refurb.
But in May this year, Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, was told by the PM that he “knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021”.
Lord Geidt was also told by officials that before February Mr Johnson did not know “either the fact or the method of the costs of refurbishing the apartment having been paid”.
The Electoral Commission has fined the party £17,800 for improperly declaring donations by Huntswood Associates used for the works at 11 Downing Street, where the PM lives.
Standards adviser ‘on the verge’ of quitting – report
In the wake of the revelation, a senior Conservative has told Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby they would be “astounded” if Lord Geidt chose to remain in his role, if he concludes the PM was “economic with the truth” in his dealings with him.
According to the Daily Telegraph, he is “on the verge” of quitting.
If he does resign, he would be the second independent adviser on ministers’ interests to go within the space of just over a year.
His predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, resigned when his findings regarding alleged bullying by Home Secretary Priti Patel in November 2020 were overruled by the PM.
Labour: Revelation ‘seriously undermines’ original investigation
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has written to Lord Geidt, calling on him to reopen his investigation into the funding of the Downing Street flat refurbishment.
She said the “discrepancy” between his report and the Electoral Commission’s findings “seriously undermines the conclusions of the original inquiry”.
“We now know that in the days before he imposed the 2021 winter lockdown, the prime minister went from allegedly hosting an illegal party in Downing Street to asking super rich Tory donors to secretly fund the luxury refurb of his flat,” she said.
“Not only has the Conservative Party broken the law, but its prime minister has made a mockery of the standards we expect.
“If Boris Johnson refuses a fresh investigation, that standard will be lowered significantly – setting the bar woefully low for our country’s public life.”
Number 10 defends PM
The PM’s official spokesman denied Mr Johnson had lied and insisted he has “acted in accordance with the rules at all times” and has “made all necessary declarations”.
He said Mr Johnson’s discussions with Lord Brownlow “were done without him knowing the underlying donor of that donation”.
The spokesman added that Lord Geidt remains in post and Mr Johnson has full confidence in him, but could not say whether Lord Geidt had been shown the WhatsApp exchanges.
The Electoral Commission report said Lord Brownlow paid the firms who carried out the refurb directly, although there is no evidence he told the prime minister he was personally funding the blind trust he chaired.