Boris Johnson under pressure to explain Downing Street flat refurbishment funding

Political Reporter David Wood reports on the growing calls for an investigation into the allegations made by Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson is being urged to explain how his Downing Street flat's refurbishment was paid for, amid allegations the prime minister had "possibly illegal" plans to get Tory donors to fund it.

The claim was one of several made by the PM's former top aide Dominic Cummings in an incendiary blog post published on Friday afternoon.

As well as accusing his former boss of plotting an “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal” plan to get Tory donors to secretly fund the work, Mr Cummings also questioned Mr Johnson's "competence and integrity" and accused the PM of being responsible for a series of false allegations about him in the media.

Political Reporter David Wood says that it does not appear that Dominic Cummings' claims have damaged the PM in the eyes of voters

Mr Johnson’s former top adviser denied he was responsible for the leak of private texts in which the PM promised to “fix” a tax issue for the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson regarding the procurement of ventilators at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a lengthy blog posting he also claimed the prime minister had tried to stop an inquiry into the leak last year of plans for a second lockdown because it implicated a friend of his fiancee, Carrie Symonds.

The government has said that the prime minister paid for the revamp – reported to have cost £200,000 – out of his own pocket.However, Labour said that Mr Johnson needed to explain how he obtained the money in the first place to pay for the work overseen by his fiancee Carrie Symonds.

Carrie Symonds’ apparent dislike of Theresa May’s John Lewis decor has turned into a major scandal for the PM Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

The party is demanding a "full inquiry" into the claims made by Mr Cummings.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that, and other allegations of so-called sleaze, "stinks" - adding if there's nothing to hide, all the details should be published.

"You've got the former most senior advisor to the prime minister saying he [Boris Johnson] has fallen way below the standards of integrity that are needed for the office of prime minister," Sir Keir said.

Starmer: "Everyday there's more evidence of this sleaze and frankly, it stinks.

"You've got the former minister Dominic Greaves saying there's a vacuum of integrity," Sir Keir added.

"Everyday there's more evidence of this sleaze and frankly, it stinks.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission has said it is still seeking answers from the Conservative Party over whether any sums relating to the work should have been declared under the law on political donations.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed told ITV News: "The way this government's carrying on, it's starting to look like organised sleaze directed from inside number ten Downing Street.

Labour says there is an 'absolute absence of integrity' in government

On the row, he said: "I think this goes to the heart of the way we conduct government in this country.

"What we're increasingly seeing from the current prime minister, and it's not just over the flat refurbishment, is a pattern of behaviour that implies there is a moral void at the heart of government."

Mr Reed also said the government must now publish any correspondence relating to payments or donations around the refurbishment.

“We need to know the full amount that was spent and we need to know who paid for the work in the first place, who the prime minister now proposes to reimburse,” the Labour MP told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“If people are making significant donations to the Conservative Party, to the government, we need to know who they are so that we can make sure the government isn’t doing favours for them in return.

“That is what sleaze is all about. That is the behaviour of a tin-pot dictatorship. Britain, frankly, deserves a lot better than that.”

Why did Dominic Cummings speak out? ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains

In a letter to the PM, the shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said there should be full transparency around the funding of the refurbishment.

“Any external financial aid to a prime minister’s lifestyle must of course be fully declared at the time and, as the ministerial code makes clear, real and perceived conflicts of interest must be avoided,” she said.

“It increasingly appears that throughout this last year considerable Government time has been spent managing the refurbishment of the flat and your approach to financing it, while seeking to avoid transparency.”

Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve – a long-standing critic of Mr Johnson – also called for transparency, describing the prime minister as a “vacuum of integrity”.

“It is all smoke and mirrors. He hasn’t said when he decided to repay it or whether he has now repaid it,” Mr Grieve told the 4 Today programme.

“The fact is that he did get, I think it has become quite clear, a significant gift towards the refurbishment of the flat.

“My impression is there has been constant wriggling about the source of the money for this refurbishment.”

In response to Mr Cummings’ claims about the funding of the flat refurbishment, a Downing Street statement said: “At all times, the government and ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law.

“Cabinet Office officials have been engaged and informed throughout and official advice has been followed.”

The claim by Mr Cummings was part of a wide-ranging attack after No 10 sources briefed newspapers the former aide was the source of a number of damaging leaks – including text messages exchanged between the prime minister and the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson over tax matters.

It follows Mr Cummings’ dramatic departure last year from No 10 amid the fallout of a bitter internal power struggle with Ms Symonds.

In his blog post, Mr Cummings accused Mr Johnson of seeking to stop an inquiry into the leak of plans for a second coronavirus lockdown after he was warned it could implicate Henry Newman, a close friend of his fiancee.

The prime minister, he said, had been “very upset” as it would cause him “very serious problems” with Ms Symonds if Mr Newman had to be fired and had asked whether the leak inquiry could be stopped.

Former adviser Dominic Cummings left Boris Johnson's No 10 in autumn 2020 after a bitter power struggle. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

Mr Cummings said he told Mr Johnson that was “mad” and “totally unethical” and that he could not cancel an inquiry into a leak which had affected millions of people “just because it might implicate his girlfriend’s friends”.

“It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves,” he said.

Mr Cummings said there now needed to be an urgent parliamentary inquiry into the Government’s conduct over the Covid crisis, with the key players required to give evidence on oath.

On Friday, the Prime Minister denied trying to block the leak inquiry, saying the public could not “give a monkey’s” about such matters.

In a statement, Downing Street said that Mr Johnson had “never interfered” in a government leak inquiry.

  • 'People don't give a monkeys!' PM says people do not care who is responsible for leaked Dyson messages

The accusations, made in the blog post, have prompted speculation Mr Cummings is bent on revenge after his dramatic departure last year from No 10 amid a bitter internal power struggle with Ms Symonds.

Ministers are braced for further allegations when he appears next month before MPs investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In relation to the refurbishment of the flat, Downing Street said that the government and ministers had “acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law” throughout.

However the Electoral Commission said that a month after it first revealed that it had contacted the Tory Party over a reported £58,000 donation in relation to the flat, those talks were still continuing.

According to a leaked email obtained by the Daily Mail, the Tory peer Lord Brownlow wrote to the party’s head of fundraising last October informing him that he was making a donation.

He said that it included “£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,” he wrote.

To date, no such trust has been formed.

A commission spokesperson said: “Discussions with the Conservative Party continue as we work to establish whether any sums relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the commission, and therefore need to be reported and subsequently published.

“The party is working with us on this.”

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