Boris Johnson charged taxpayers £ 28,000 for sophisticated floor renovations
The government has admitted receiving funds from the Conservative Party to help pay for the renovation of Boris Johnson’s apartment in Downing Street.
The money was eventually refunded and paid by the Prime Minister himself. But authorities now believe that there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that an offense may have been committed.
The Cabinet Office also revealed Johnson had charged taxpayers £ 28,647 for part of the renovation, including painting and sanding his floors.
For months, government officials have remained silent about how the work was funded, amid speculation about a “phantom” donation.
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But a report, quietly published today, confirms that the invoices for the renovation work were “received and paid by the Cabinet Office, then re-invoiced to the Conservative Party in July 2020”.
This was in addition to the Prime Minister’s official budget for the upkeep of his Downing Street apartment, which is funded by taxpayers’ money.
But there are still questions about how much of the extra bills and how the Conservative Party has raised money to pay them.
A previous report by Lord Geidt, the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser, named Conservative peer and major party donor Lord Brownlow as the originator of the donation.
Geidt’s report says the invoices were “re-invoiced to the Conservative Party at the end of June 2020 in anticipation of what remains to be established [Downing Street] Trust repaying the amount ”. But Geidt did not say whether the Conservative Party ended up footing the Cabinet Office bill.
The report released today by the Cabinet Office is therefore the first official confirmation of the use of Conservative Party funds to foot the renovation bill. The Downing Street Trust project was never created.
Geidt wrote in May: “I report that there has been an interest in [Boris Johnson’s] Minister of the Crown. This is the result of the support given by the Conservative Campaign Headquarters and by Lord Brownlow to the Prime Minister. “
By law, all political parties must report all donations over £ 7,500 to the Election Commission. An investigation by the Election Commission by the watchdog is currently underway, after he said he had “Reasonable grounds to suspect an offense” may have been committed.
But no donations related to Brownlow’s renovation in Conservative Party funds have yet been reported.
Dominic Cummings, former Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, claimed “Prime Minister’s plans to secretly charge for renovations by donors were unethical, senseless, possibly illegal, and almost certainly broke the rules for the disclosure of political donations.”
Details of the arrangement were first exposed early March. Today’s report says Johnson did not cover “all final costs” out of his own pocket until the same month.
It is unclear how the Prime Minister was suddenly able to pay the unpaid bill, especially since his widely reported financial worries had prevented him from paying it in the first place. Johnson has recently reported no additional income above normal levels and has not recorded any loans.
The government had already spent £ 28,627 of its official annual budget of £ 30,000 to renovate the Prime Minister’s apartment. The money went to Mitie Facilities Management, including for “painting and sanding the floorboards”.
The Cabinet Office then received several other invoices – apparently from top designer Lulu Lytle, from a bill of £ 58,000.
A photographer emerged afterwards of Lytle visiting Downing Street. A memo leak suggests that Conservative Party co-chair Ben Elliot, who is Johnson’s friend and colleague Old Etonian, knew the as yet unreported £ 58,000 was intended for the renovation of Downing Street.
The complete renovation invoice is believed to be a six-digit sum.
Neither the Conservative Party nor Lord Brownlow responded to previous requests for openDemocracy to comment on the renovation.