'The flat's a bit of a tip': How Johnson asked Tory donor to approve revamp in 11 Downing Street
Lord Geidt had not been made aware of key phone messages between Boris Johnson and the Tory donor who initially paid for the work, reports Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana
Boris Johnson described his Downing Street flat as "a bit of a tip" as he asked a Tory donor to sign off on renovations, WhatsApp messages have revealed.
The prime minister messaged Lord Brownlow in November 2020, asking whether a high-end designer could "get in touch" for "approvals" on the refurbishment, which is reported to have eventually cost more than £200,000.
Downing Street has said the PM did not know Lord Brownlow was actually providing the money, instead assuming he was managing a “blind trust” that would fund the costs.
The WhatsApp exchange between Boris Johnson and Tory donor Lord Brownlow:
"I am afraid parts of our flat are still a bit of a tip and am keen to allow Lulu Lytle to get on with it," Mr Johnson said in a WhatsApp message, referring to the the flat in 11 Downing Street that he'd inherited from former prime minister Theresa May.
"Can I possibly ask her to get in touch with you for approvals?" he asked
The peer responded: "Of course, get Lulu to call me and we'll get it sorted ASAP."
Around 26 minutes later Lord Brownlow sent another text, adding: "I should have said, as the Trust isn't set up yet (will be in January) approval is a doddle as it's only me and I know where the £ will come from."
No 10, explaining what Mr Johnson meant when he described his No 11 flat as "a tip", said: "I think the PM's words reflect the fact that works were incomplete, refurbishment and renovation works were incomplete, at that point, which meant the further expenditure was necessary to complete them."
The message exchange has been revealed after three investigations into the funding of the revamp after claims the cash was not properly declared and registered.
Where have the texts come from?
Mr Johnson was cleared of breaking the ministerial code by Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers' interests, who carried out the initial investigation but a second probe by the Electoral Commission uncovered the messages.
Lord Geidt was forced to carry out his second investigation into the flat's funding, the third probe in total, so he could review the messages.
The PM, explaining why they were not revealed to the first probe, claimed he was unable to find the messages because he had changed phone.
He was again cleared of breaking the ministerial code but was told off by Lord Geidt over "real failures of process" relating to the missing messages.
Despite expressing his "grave concern" that the missing messages were not provided, Lord Geidt said they would not have impacted the conclusion of his initial investigation.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston believes Boris Johnson got off very lightly. He explains his thoughts.
Why has Boris Johnson apologised?
The PM said he did not have access to his previous mobile phone, from which the messages had been sent, and "did not recall the message exchange".
Responding to Lord Geidt's findings, Mr Johnson said: "I am sorry that the Office of the Independent Adviser has been put in this position and can only repeat the humble and sincere apology I gave when we discussed this matter earlier today."
Lord Geidt said the missing messages "shortcomings" shows "evidence of insufficient care for the role of your independent adviser".
Mr Johnson, asked by a reporter on Thursday whether he expected people to believe his claims, said: "I followed the ministerial guidance at all times - and yes."
But many people don't believe the prime minister
Labour said his "pathetic excuses will fool no one", with Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner saying Mr Johnson has "little regard for the rules or the truth".
"It is simply impossible to read these exchanges and conclude that the prime minister has not breached these aspects of the Code," she said.
“This matters because it matters who has influence on our government in a democracy.
"The British public can't WhatsApp a wealthy donor to open their wallets on request, and the least they deserve is transparency about who’s bankrolling their prime minister.”
'It beggars belief' - Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds questions the PM's explanation:
Why have there been three investigations into the funding of the flat?
The first probe was launched in response to claims that Mr Johnson had not properly declared donations made to fund the revamp of his flat.
Lord Geidt cleared Mr Johnson of breaking the ministerial code because he claimed to be unaware of who was funding the revamp of his flat.But a second, separate investigation by the Electoral Commission, uncovered the not-seen-before WhatsApp exchanges, which indicated the PM did know where the cash was coming from.
Mr Johnson claimed he did not know Lord Brownlow had paid £52,000 toward the refurbishment but the messages showed him "asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence", according to the Electoral Commission, indicating he did know the source of the cash.
Mr Johnson had previously said he had no knowledge of the payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.
Downing Street's explanation was that the PM did not know Lord Brownlow was actually providing the money, instead assuming he was managing a “blind trust” that would fund the costs.
The commission decided the funding was not properly declared by the Conservative Party and fined it £17,800 for failure to "accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record".
What are the rules on a PM renovating their Downing Street flat?
A prime minister is allowed to use an annual public grant of up to £30,000 to decorate their Downing Street home, however the renovations are said to have cost £200,000.
Parliamentary rules say any donation over £500 must be registered and declared however the Electoral Commission concluded they were not.
Prime Minister Johnson eventually settled the full cost of the flat refurbishment himself after public backlash.