No10 decor scandal: Boris Johnson ‘persuaded Tory chiefs to secretly pay for Carrie Symonds’ £200,000 makeover’ of his Downing Street flat
- Conservative Party funds met a large part of the makeover bill, sources say
- After being warned it could be ‘improper’, they allegedly launched a cover-up
- Wealthy donors reportedly agreed to pay an equivalent sum into Tory coffers
Boris Johnson persuaded Tory chiefs to secretly pay for Carrie Symonds’ makeover of his official flat, it has been claimed.
The Daily Mail has been told that Conservative Party funds met a large part of the bill, which is said to be in the region of £200,000.
But after being warned this could be ‘improper’, and amid a backlash from outraged party elders, the Tories are said to have tried to launch a cover-up.
Boris Johnson persuaded Tory chiefs to secretly pay for Carrie Symonds’ makeover of his official flat, it has been claimed
One or more wealthy donors reportedly agreed to pay an equivalent sum into Tory coffers, apparently in the hope that party HQ’s involvement in the Downing Street affair would stay hidden.
It was reported last night that Conservative officials plan to declare the contribution to the Electoral Commission in an attempt to quell the furore.
Downing Street last night insisted there had been no wrongdoing.
‘At all times, the Government and ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct,’ said a spokesman. ‘All reportable donations are transparently declared to and published – either by the Electoral Commission or the House of Commons registrar, in line with the requirements set out in electoral law.
‘Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns. As has always been the case, CCHQ (Conservative HQ) supports the leader of the Conservative Party in their political activities.’
Mr Johnson has said privately he feared the final bill for the refit, inspired by upmarket interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured), could be as high as £200,000
The spokesman said details of the makeover would be spelled out in Cabinet Office accounts later this year. The spokesman would not say whether Tory HQ funds had been used to settle the refurbishment bill – or whether donors had been asked to pay a similar amount to the party HQ.
The extraordinary developments came three days after this newspaper revealed that the Prime Minister planned to set up a charity, partly to raise money for the decor in the 11 Downing Street flat. Both Downing Street and Tory HQ were said to be ‘in meltdown’ yesterday as demands to come clean over the matter grew.
Mr Johnson has said privately he feared the final bill for the refit, inspired by upmarket interior designer Lulu Lytle, could be as high as £200,000.
Mr Johnson investigated setting up a ‘Downing Street charity’ to try to recoup some of the money and aid efforts at preserving Numbers 10 and 11 for the nation.
The Mail understands there have been frantic discussions in Tory HQ and Downing Street since our disclosures. Senior civil servants are said to have warned that using a political party covertly to buy expensive wallpaper and furnishings for the residence of the Prime Minister and his partner could be a breach of Whitehall and parliamentary ethics rules.
The name of Lord Bamford, billionaire boss of the JCB construction firm, is said to have been raised at a No 10 meeting as one of those who could be asked to plug the funding gap
A report in 1995 by Lord Nolan – first chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life – says all politicians must behave in a ‘selfless’ way. Its first rule states: ‘Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.’ All MPs, including Mr Johnson, must declare any ‘financial interest or non financial benefit which might affect their actions’ within 28 days of receiving it.
There is no mention of the No 11 refurbishment in Mr Johnson’s Commons register. Donations to political parties must be used for political campaigning and the identity of those who give more than £7,500 must be disclosed.
Furthermore, political parties must tell the Electoral Commission how their funds are used.
The Daily Mail has been told that Tory chiefs approved the payment from party funds. The name of Lord Bamford, billionaire boss of the JCB construction firm, is said to have been raised at a No 10 meeting as one of those who could be asked to plug the funding gap.
Lord Bamford’s family has given more than £4million to the Conservatives in recent years, including donations worth £160,000 in 2019.
The Daily Mail disclosed yesterday that Mr Johnson and Miss Symonds have had daily deliveries at Downing Street since last April of food and prepared meals from Lady Bamford’s Daylesford Organic Farmshop. No 10 says they met the cost of this themselves.
Zac Goldsmith (pictured with Carrie and Sajid Javid), the millionaire environment minister and close friend of Miss Symonds, has had lengthy talks with Mr Johnson on the refurbishment issue, according to a source
£2.6m for unused Downing St studio
Downing Street has spent more than £2.6million on renovations in order to hold White House-style press briefings, it emerged yesterday.
An extensive overhaul within No 9 Downing Street began last year when the Government announced plans to hold the televised briefings. In response to a freedom of information request, the Cabinet Office issued a breakdown of the costs totalling £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT.
It said the funds had been spent to allow daily broadcasting by news organisations within the Grade I listed building.
‘This will necessarily require one-off capital works, including audio-visual equipment, internet infrastructure, electrical works and lighting,’ the response said.
‘This spending is in the public interest as the new broadcasting of lobby briefings will increase public accountability and transparency about the work of this Government now and in the future. Such spending on maintenance and technical facilities reflects that 9 Downing Street (the Privy Council Office) is a Grade I listed building.’
The televised briefings were said to be the brainchild of Boris Johnson’s former adviser Lee Cain. But he reportedly disagreed with the Prime Minister’s choice of former journalist Allegra Stratton as press secretary to lead the briefings as a government spokesman. Mr Cain later left Downing Street, along with former Vote Leave colleague Dominic Cummings, as a power struggle within No 10 spilled out into the open.
The launch of the briefings had been anticipated as early as the autumn, but in January No 10 said they were being delayed.
Under proposals set out in July, an afternoon session will be filmed at 9 Downing Street and will be led by Miss Stratton.
As a politically-appointed special adviser, she will be able to take aim at opponents as well as defend the Government’s actions.
Zac Goldsmith, the millionaire environment minister and close friend of Miss Symonds, has had lengthy talks with Mr Johnson on the refurbishment issue, according to a source, and has advised him on his financial woes.
In a statement earlier this week, the peer said he had made donations to the Conservative Party, but none that were linked to Downing Street.
He declined to comment further last night.
A spokesman for Lord Bamford said: ‘It is well known that Lord Bamford is a donor to the Conservative Party but he has made no donations whatsoever which contribute towards refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.’ A Conservative spokesman said: ‘Donations to the Conservative Party are declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law.’
Sir Alistair Graham, another former head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said if Tory Party funds had been used to pay for the No 11 decor it would be ‘chicanery creeping towards corruption’. Mr Johnson was ‘ethically and morally bound’ to declare such a benefit both as an MP and as Prime Minister.
Political parties could not ‘go hawking round to donors and the public to raise money for an individual’s personal benefit without being transparent about it’, Sir Alistair told the Daily Mail.
‘If somebody gives money to a political party it has to be used for legitimate political purposes such as campaigning. You cannot use it to benefit the Prime Minister personally.’
The Conservative Party had a duty to tell the Electoral Commission how its funds were used, he added.
Tory HQ insiders say there was ‘outrage’ at the discovery that a six-figure sum had been used to pay for Miss Symonds’ flat makeover. ‘Because of the pandemic we are struggling to raise the cash to pay for important campaigns, and yet when Carrie spends a fortune on furnishings we are told the party should pick up the tab,’ said one.
‘It is an insult to grass-roots donors on modest incomes who make sacrifices to give us a few pounds each week thinking they are keeping the socialists out and that we look after their money carefully.
‘And so we did. But not any more. This has caused a great deal of anger and would have never have happened under previous leaders. The party has turned from a highly efficient, professional organisation into one that is increasingly beholden to the whims of the leader and the indulgences of his partner.’
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Lord Bamford or Lord Goldsmith.
An article in Tatler revealed that Miss Symonds had been overhauling the flat to remove all trace of Theresa May’s ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’. It said the main living area had been painted deep green and was often lit by candles.
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