UK’s Johnson Faces Fresh Questions Over Funding of Flat Renovation

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
December 9, 2021 Updated: December 9, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing fresh questions over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat after a watchdog fined the ruling Conservative Party for failing to report relevant donations properly.

Johnson came under pressure earlier this year to explain how the expensive refurbishment of the 11 Downing Street flat was paid for, after his former chief advisor Dominic Cummings alleged in a blog post in April that the prime minister had planned to “have donors secretly pay for the renovation.”

In May, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Christopher Geidt, said the prime minister “unwisely” allowed the refurbishment to proceed “without more rigorous regard for how this would be funded.” But he cleared Johnson of a conflict of interest or of breaching the ministerial code, saying there was no evidence the prime minister knew where the donation came from.

After investigating the matter, the Electoral Commission, the UK’s political spending watchdog, said on Thursday that the Conservative Party had failed to “fully report” a donation of £67,801.72 ($89,535) from Lord Brownlow, the majority of which was connected to the refurbishment.

The commission found that decisions relating to the handling and recording of the donation reflected “serious failings in the party’s compliance systems.”

The watchdog fined the Conservative Party £17,800 ($23,505) for “failing to accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record.”

But its report raised further questions because it discussed evidence showing Johnson had sent Lord Brownlow a WhatsApp message in November 2020 “asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence,” to which he agreed.

The main opposition Labour party accused Johnson of having “lied” to his standards adviser Geidt by saying he did not know who was behind the payment.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “The prime minister must now explain why he lied to the British public saying he didn’t know who was behind No 11 flat refurb—all the while he was WhatsApping the donor asking for more money. Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He’s not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers.”

She called for a fresh investigation from Lord Geidt and for Parliamentary Standards Commission Kathryn Stone to investigate Johnson, saying he was “in flagrant breach” of both the MPs’ code of conduct and the Ministerial Code.

Johnson’s official spokesman denied he had lied and insisted he has “acted in accordance with the rules at all times” and has “made all necessary declarations.”

“Lord Brownlow was the chair of a blind trust and acted in accordance with his experience of managing blind trusts in that way, the prime minister’s discussions with Lord Brownlow were done without him knowing the underlying donor of that donation,” the spokesman said.

PA contributed to this report.