Boris Johnson personally asked for more cash for his flat refurbishment – despite claiming, three months later, that he knew nothing about any payments, a bombshell investigation has found.
The revelation – from a report fining the Tories for breaking electoral law – sparked allegations from Labour that the prime minister has “lied to the British public” over the scandal.
It will pile the pressure on Johnson’s ethics adviser to reopen an inquiry into the controversial redecoration, after it had concluded that there was no breach of the ministerial code.
In May, Lord Geidt said there was “no evidence” that Johnson had been told by Tory peer Lord Brownlow that he had footed the bill for the refurbishment.
That conclusion was predicated on the prime minister’s testimony that “he knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021”.
But a fresh investigation by the Electoral Commission, published on Thursday morning, says that Johnson “messaged Lord Brownlow via WhatsApp” in November 2020 to ask him to “authorise” further decorations.
And, in early December, “Lord Brownlow confirmed to the prime minister that he had approved further works”, the watchdog reported.
When the donor shelled out a further £13,295.40, the donor “sent a detailed update on the proposed trust to the prime minister”.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, 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.”
With Downing Street engulfed by scandal, the Commission’s findings bring allegations of Tory sleaze back into the spotlight.
He and other ministers repeatedly refused to confirm that the Tory party and a major donor originally funded the lavish refurbishment.
‘Unethical and possibly illegal’
Dominic Cummings said the “plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations”.
The Geidt report found in May that Johnson “settled the full amount himself on 8 March 2021”, having only found out the way in which the redecoration was actually funded a month earlier – a claim that has now been called into question.
Johnson’s spokesman insisted that the prime minister had not lied to Lord Geidt, claiming: “As set out in Lord Geidt’s report, the prime minister was not aware of the details of the underlying donor until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021, when he immediately sought the necessary advice about his interests, and as a consequence settled the full amount himself,” the spokesman said.
“Lord Brownlow was appointed by the PM as chair of the trust on 23 June and Lord Geidt’s report notes that Lord Brownlow behaved in a confidential manner, consistent with his own experience of blind trusts.”
The Tory party has suggested it may challenge the Commission’s findings.