EXCLUSIVE: Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces another headache over his No 11 Downing Street flat – this time from noisy builders carrying out staff renovations
- Planning permission was quietly granted last month for new No 11 alterations
- Project will see a door moved and improved bathroom areas for workers
- Plans say it will provide for an ‘increasing need for staff accommodation’
- Johnson is currently mired in row over other lavish renovations on another floor
Boris Johnson – already in a sleaze row over the lavish redecoration of his Downing Street flat – faces another headache, this time over noisy renovations in the loft.
The works, which are unconnected to the Prime Minister, 57, and his wife Carrie, 33, will happen on one of the floors above where they live in No 11 with their two children Wilfred and Romy.
Initial plans to move a partition wall have been already been canned, but the building changes will still see a door repositioned and locker room, shower and toilet facilities improved.
The works – described as ‘minor renovations’ by an insider – are for staff who may need to change after cycling into work or freshen up after toiling long hours.
With a new baby in the family, it is unclear whether noise from the as-yet unscheduled changes will keep any of the Johnsons awake or disturb them.
Mr Johnson and his wife announced their second pregnancy on July 31, with the unrelated planning application put in on September 7.
The application – which does not include any images or designs – was put in a few months ago in September and originally invited comments on the plans.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson inside No 10 Downing Street
The Johnsons’ flat is below the loft floor where the staff renovations are being carried out
Details of the planning application were published publicly outside Downing Street
Despite the properties being Grade I listed, Historic England had nothing to add to the proposals and permission was quietly granted last month.
City of Westminster Council case officer Tom Burke said in his report: ‘The proposals as a whole represent a more intensive use of the building in response to increasing need for staff accommodation.
‘The changes are minimally intrusive and reversible to the listed building fabric and therefore as a whole have a negligible impact upon the significance of the buildings.’
The threat of noisy builders could be the second headache in a fortnight Mr Johnson over works done at No 11.
Earlier this month the Tories were 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 Johnsons’ No 11 apartment was kept off the books, with worried staff told ‘don’t worry’.
But the investigation also suggested Mr Johnson could have been aware the cash was from Lord Brownlow and his firm Huntwood Associates in November last year.
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.
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. He says officials assured him that Mr Johnson was not aware that Lord Brownlow paid for the work personally until it was revealed in the media. The PM also told him the same thing directly.
December 2021: The Electoral Commission fines the Conservatives Party £17,800 for failing to declare Lord Brownlow’s original donation. It reveals that he received the WhatsApp messages about money from the PM.
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 told him he 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 has previously said the PM had ‘obviously lied to Geidt’.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner 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 noted that at the time in November ‘the proposed trust had not yet been set up’.
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’.
Details of the lavish redecoration of the apartment shared by the PM and his then fiancée were revealed in March.
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 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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