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New Boris sleaze row as it is revealed PM DID know Tory donor gave £52k to do up his flat

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Boris Johnson was at the centre of another sleaze row today as he was accused of lying about funding for a lavish renovation of his Downing Street flat. 

The Conservatives have been fined £17,800 by the Electoral Commission for failing to register a five-figure cash donation from businessman and Tory peer Lord Brownlow in October last year.

The probe revealed that the payment of £52,000 connected to redecorating the No11 apartment was kept off the books, with worried staff told ‘don’t worry’.

But the investigation also revealed that Mr Johnson was aware the cash was from Lord Brownlow and his firm Huntwood Associates in November last year. 

It also showed that the PM successfully tapped him up via WhatsApp for another £60,000. In total the Tory peer gave £112,549.12 towards the renovation of the private flat. 

However, in evidence to his adviser on ministerial standards Lord Geidt earlier this year, No10 said the PM was unaware of the source of the money until February. 

The peer’s own probe cleared Mr Johnson of wrongdoing, saying there was ‘no evidence that the Prime Minister had been informed by Lord Brownlow that he had personally settled the total costs’.

Mr Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings today said the PM had ‘obviously lied to Geidt’.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner today wrote to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone to ask her to investigate the donations.

Ms Rayner said: ‘Boris Johnson’s sleaze is corroding the office of Prime Minister. 

‘The Paterson scandal, illicit Christmas parties in Number 10 and now dodgy payments from a multimillionaire Conservative Party donor to fund his luxury Downing Street refurb.

‘It is one rule for them, and one rule for the rest of us, and Boris Johnson is at the heart of it.’ 

Downing Street insisted today that the PM knew Lord Brownlow was in charge of a blind trust being used to fund the flat renovation, not that he was also the source of the donation.

‘The PM was not aware of the details of the underlying donor until prior to media reports (in February),’ Mr Johnson’s spokesman told reporters, saying the PM had not lied to Lord Geidt. 

However the Commission report today noted that at the time in November ‘the proposed trust had not yet been set up’. 

The Electoral Commission fined the Conservatives £17,800 for failing to properly declare almost £68,000 mostly used to pay for the refurbishment of the private quarters used by Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and their son Wilfred.

The Electoral Commission fined the Conservatives £17,800 for failing to properly declare almost £68,000 mostly used to pay for the refurbishment of the private quarters used by Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and their son Wilfred.

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

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

What did Boris know and when? 

Accounts of what Boris knew and when appear to differ between the Electoral Commission investigation and that carried out by his own ministerial standards adviser Lord Geidt earlier this year.

Lord Geidt’s report noted:  ‘The Prime Minister … confirms that he knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021. At that point, the Prime Minister immediately sought the necessary advice about his interests and, as a consequence, settled the full amount himself on 8 March 2021.’ 

But the Electoral Commission’s version of events says: ’29 November 2020: the Prime Minister messaged Lord Brownlow via WhatsApp asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence. Lord Brownlow agreed to do so, and also explained that the proposed trust had not yet been set up but that he knew where the funding was coming from.’  

It found that the Conservative Party failed to ‘fully report’ a donation of £67,801.72 from Brownlow made in October 2020, of which £52,801 which was connected to the refurbishment of the 11 Downing Street flat where Boris Johnson lives.

The probe found that when the payment was flagged by a junior member of Conservative staff, they were told the cash was for ‘something else’ and ‘don’t worry’. 

It also revealed that the PM personally begged Lord Brownlow for more cash via Whatsapp just weeks after his initial donation. 

The result of its investigation is also likely to lead to a new probe by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone. 

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

A fine of £17,800 was levied for ‘failing to accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record’.

Louise Edwards, director of regulation at the Electoral Commission, said: ‘The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems.

‘As a large and well-resourced political party that employs compliance and finance experts, and that has substantial sums of money going through its accounts, the Conservative Party should have sufficiently robust systems in place to meet its legal reporting requirements.’

The Daily Mail revealed details of the lavish redecoration of the apartment shared by the PM and his then fiancée in March.

Boris’s flat saga: a timeline

January 2020: Plans are submitted for the refurbishment of the No11 flat, a month after Mr Johnson wins 2019 election.

February 2020: Officials decide to set up a blind trust to fund the six-figure  renovation. The system is designed to ensure the beneficiary is not aware of the source of the money, to prevent corruption.

May 2020: Lord Brownlow is approached to set up and then chair the trust, and agrees.

June/July 2020: The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for the Downing Street estate, pays three invoices totalling £52,801.72 for work carried out, and then bills the Conservative Party.

August 2020: The Conservatives Party pays the bill. 

October 2020: Lord Brownlow emails the party and asks how much the bill is, and says he will make a donation to cover it. He does so.

November 29, 2020: Boris Johnson contacts Lord Brownlow on WhatsApp ‘asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works’. Lord Brownlow agrees and explains that the Downing Street Trust has not yet been set up. 

December 18, 2020: Lord Brownlow donates a further £33,484.80 to the firm refurbishing the flat.

February 2021: Lord Brownlow donates a further £13,295.30 to the firm refurbishing the flat, taking his total contribution to £112, 549.12

March 2021: The scale and cost of the renovations, and the way it was funded, is revealed by the Daily Mail. Boris Johnson repays the supplier personally and the firm then re-reimburses Lord Brownlow.

May 2021: Ministerial Standards watchdog Lord Geidt clears the PM of wrongdoing, saying he was assured that Mr Johnson was not aware that Lord Brownlow paid for the work personally until it was revealed in the media.

December 2021: The Electoral Commission fines the Conservatives Party £17,800 for failing to declare Lord Brownlow’s original donation. 

 

The revamp at No11 by upmarket designer Lulu Lytle is said to have included gold wall coverings. 

But the funding of the work did not appear in the list of political donations published by the Commission or in Mr Johnson’s Commons register of interests. 

It prompted demands from the Labour Party for a full investigation into how the extravagant work was paid for and whether rules were broken. 

The Electoral Commission said that Huntswood Associates transferred £67,801.72 to the Conservative Party on October 19, 2020.

Some £15,000 of that amount was for an event, but the commission said he ‘specifically identified the remaining £52,801.72 as a donation to cover an earlier payment of that value made by the party to the Cabinet Office’.

The Cabinet Office had paid three invoices over summer 2020, totalling the same amount, for the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat at 11 Downing Street, and these were made on the agreement that the sum would be repaid by the party.

But the commission said that in donation records submitted on January 27, 2021, while the party reported the £15,000 from Huntswood Associates, it failed to report the £52,801.72.

The commission also concluded that the reference in the party’s financial records to the payment of £52,801.72 made by the party for the refurbishment was not accurate as it was referred to as a ‘blind trust loan’.

However a trust to refurbish the flat had not been created.

The Tories are considering whether to appeal against the Electoral Commission fine over the donation linked to Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment.

A party spokesman said: ‘The Conservative Party has received notification from the Electoral Commission that, in their judgment, the manner in which a payment was reported represented a technical breach of reporting requirements under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

‘We have been in constant contact with the Electoral Commission with regards to this matter and have sought their advice as to how the transaction should be reported since it was made.

‘We are considering whether to appeal this decision and will make a decision within 28 working days.’

Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said it remained to be seen if Lord Geidt will feel able to continue in his role, adding whoever does that role they will have to ‘exhibit perhaps a greater degree of curiosity, and perhaps a little less trust, than has been the case to date’.

The MP for Orkney and Shetland said in the Commons: ‘The report of the Electoral Commission today in relation to donations for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat states that the Prime Minister was WhatsApping Lord Brownlow asking for money in November 2020.

‘But it would appear that the Prime Minister also told Lord Geidt, the independent advisor, that he had only become aware of the funding source in February 2021.

‘Now it remains to be seen whether in these circumstances Lord Geidt will feel able to continue in the role of independent advisor.

‘But whoever does that job will have to do it with every assiduousness, shall we say, and exhibit perhaps a greater degree of curiosity, and perhaps a little less trust, than has been the case to date.’

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