Boris Johnson has apologised to his ministerial standards adviser for the failure to disclose messages between the Prime Minister and Tory peer Lord Brownlow over the funding of the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.
Mr Johnson, in a letter released on Thursday, said he was “sorry that the Office of Independent Adviser has been put in this position” and that he can “only repeat the humble and sincere apology” he had already offered Lord Geidt.
At a glance 5 key points:
- Boris Johnson has apologised over the failure to disclose messages about the Downing Street flat refurbishment
- He said he did not have access to his previous mobile phone from which messages had been sent
- Ministerial interests adviser Lord Geidt criticised failings over the lack of complete disclosure of Boris Johnson’s messages
- Lord Geidt previously cleared the Prime Minister of breaching the code in relation to the funding of the flat refurbishment
- This judgement was upheld on Thursday
Mr Johnson 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”.
But he said: “A fuller explanation of the circumstances should have been provided at the time of your investigation. I am sorry we did not do so.”
What did Lord Geidt’s letter say?
Ministerial interests adviser Lord Geidt criticised failings over the lack of complete disclosure of Boris Johnson’s messages over his lavish Downing Street flat refurbishment.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the peer said: “The new disclosure did not in fact result in change to my original assessment of your interests insofar as they related to the ministerial code.
“It did, however, expose a signal deficiency in the standards upon which the independent adviser and, by extension, the Prime Minister have an absolute right to rely in establishing the truth in such matters.
“Indeed, the episode shook my confidence precisely because potential and real failures of process occurred in more than one part of the apparatus of government. I am very grateful to have your apology for these shortcomings and to know of your determination to prevent such a situation from happening again.”
What has previously been said about the refurbishment?
It comes after Lord Geidt previously cleared the Prime Minister of breaching the code in relation to the funding of the flat refurbishment – a judgment he upheld on Thursday.
There had been discussions about a Downing Street Trust being set up to pay for the work, which exceeded the annual public grant of up to £30,000 the Prime Minister can spend on renovations.
But this did not come to fruition, and a later Electoral Commission (EC) investigation found a total of £112,549.12 had been paid by Huntswood Associates – whose director is Lord Brownlow – to cover the work by luxury firm Soane Britain, which is owned by interior designer Lulu Lytle.
The Electoral Commission fined the Conservatives £17,800 after it found the party had not followed the law over donations by Lord Brownlow to help cover the renovations.
The watchdog said the Tories had failed to “accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record” of the money handed over by the peer in October 2020, but as part of the investigation it was revealed Mr Johnson had exchanged messages with Lord Brownlow in November 2020.
Mr Johnson had previously said he had no knowledge of the payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.
What was said in the messages?
The EC said that on 29 November last year, Mr Johnson sent a WhatsApp message to Lord Brownlow “asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence”, suggesting Lord Geidt had been misled.
In these messages, released for the first time on Thursday, Mr Johnson tells 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. Can I possibly ask her to get in touch with you for approvals?”
To which Lord Brownlow replies: “Of course, get Lulu to call me and we’ll get it sorted ASAP!”
In a second message, he adds: “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, so as soon as Lulu calls we can crack on.”
No 10 said describing the flat as a “tip” reflected “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”.
Mr Johnson told Lord Geidt he had not had access to his old mobile phone, which contained the messages, due to “security issues”.
And the adviser said officials had told him it was a “well-publicised security breach” in April 2021 which meant the messages “were no longer available to search”.
Downing Street would not confirm whether this was linked to a report by the cult newsletter Popbitch in the same month that Mr Johnson’s mobile number was still available on press releases online from when he was shadow higher education minister in 2006.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “It’s longstanding policy that we don’t get into matters relating to security.”
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