Electoral probe into No10 decor scandal

Electoral probe into No10 decor scandal: Watchdog quizzes Tories over secret £60,000 payment to fund Boris Johnson and Carrie’s lavish Downing Street renovation

  • Tory chiefs quizzed over £60,000 payment for makeover of Boris Johnson’s flat
  • Follows disclosures by the Daily Mail on the financing of decor and furnishings
  • The £60,000 Downing Street bill paid by the Conservative Party last summer 

Election watchdogs are quizzing Tory chiefs over a secret £60,000 payment for the lavish makeover of Boris Johnson’s flat.

They have asked Conservative chairman Ben Elliot to explain whether the party complied with strict laws on political donations.

The dramatic development follows a series of disclosures by the Daily Mail on the financing of decor and furnishings for the apartment the Prime Minister shares with his fiancée Carrie Symonds.

Mr Johnson’s team was thrown into panic by our revelations that the £60,000 Downing Street bill was paid by the Conservative Party last summer. It got the money back from a wealthy donor in October – also in secret. 

The £60,000 does not appear in the list of political donations published by the Electoral Commission, which monitors party funding, or in Mr Johnson’s Commons register of interests.

Tory chiefs are being quizzed over a secret £60,000 payment for the makeover of Boris Johnson’s flat. It follows a series of disclosures by the Daily Mail on the financing of decor and furnishings for the apartment the Prime Minister shares with his fiancée Carrie Symonds

The Prime Minister and Mr Elliot deny impropriety and say that details of the funding of the refit at No 11, said to have cost a six-figure sum in total, will be made public in due course.

But their attempts to minimise the controversy were undermined last night after it emerged that:

  • The Prime Minister had a meeting with multi-millionaire environment minister Zac Goldsmith at No 10 where the possibility of him offering financial help was discussed, aides claimed;
  • The decision to set up a trust to maintain No 10 and No 11 – and fund the flat makeover – was made at the same time as the £60,000 bill landed;
  • Mr Elliot, nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, coined the term – ‘wallpaper-gate’ – used by party officials to describe the row.

According to a labyrinthine money trail established by the Daily Mail, the £60,000 bill from upmarket interior designer Lulu Lytle’s Soane Britain company arrived in June, and the Cabinet Office refused to pay up.

Tory HQ paid via the Cabinet Office in July, and the party got the cash back from Lord Brownlow in October.

In another twist, Lord Brownlow’s £60,000 was to be assigned to the Downing Street trust he was put in charge of – even though it doesn’t officially exist. 

Mr Johnson’s team was thrown into panic by revelations that the £60,000 Downing Street bill, which does not appear in the list of political donations published by the Electoral Commission, was paid by the Conservative Party

Lord Brownlow’s (pictured) £60,000 was to be assigned to the Downing Street trust he was put in charge of

Professor David Howarth, a former electoral commissioner, told this newspaper: ‘This tangled web must be unravelled. If Boris Johnson received £60,000 to refurbish his official flat either he or his party must declare it.

‘A politician cannot get a large sum directly or indirectly which no one declares. It is a nonsense.’

Since details of the complex transactions were revealed by the Mail, embarrassed Tory chiefs have reportedly discussed returning the £60,000 to Lord Brownlow to gloss over the affair. 

Under this plan, the peer would pay for the decor direct – while the Cabinet Office paid back Tory headquarters.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission, headed by Bob Posner, told the Mail: ‘We are in contact with the (Conservative) party to establish whether any sums relating to the renovation works fall within the regime regulated by the commission.

‘If so, they would need to be reported according to the rules specified in law, and would then be published by the commission as part of our commitment to the transparency of political finance.’

Under commission rules, all donations of more than £7,500 to political parties made between October and December last year had to be declared by January 30.

In the commission’s most recent list published last month, there is no reference to a £60,000 donation from Lord Brownlow to Conservative HQ in October to reimburse them for the refurbishment.

However a £15,000 donation to the Conservatives by Lord Brownlow at the same time, unrelated to the No 11 flat, does appear on the register.

It is a donation from Huntswood, the recruitment firm owned by Lord Brownlow. He has given the Conservatives more than £3million in recent years, either personally or from his company.

The Electoral Commission can fine political parties up to £20,000 for breaching the rules.

It can also order criminal investigations for serious breaches, such as failing to tell the truth about donations. The commission spokesman said the inquiries did not constitute a formal investigation.

MPs must declare donations or benefits on the Commons register of interests, and there is a separate Whitehall register for ministers’ outside interests. 

There is no reference to any £60,000 donation in either of Mr Johnson’s entries in the two registers.

The  £60,000 bill was from the upmarket interior designer Lulu Lytle’s Soane Britain company (sample design by the company pictured)

Soane’s clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, yachts and private houses all over the world (sample design by the company pictured)

The code of conduct for ministers says they ‘should not accept gifts, hospitality or services that might place them under an obligation’ – and the same applies to family members. 

The code adds: ‘Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of a conflict of interest between their ministerial position and their private financial interests.’

A spokesman for Lord Goldsmith, a close friend of Mr Elliot and Miss Symonds, said: ‘Zac was neither asked to provide any form of finance for the Downing Street flat, nor did he provide it.’

Asked whether the peer had given any financial aid to Mr Johnson or his fiancée, directly or directly, since he became Prime Minister, the spokesman did not respond.

A series of disclosures were made by the Daily Mail on the financing of decor and furnishings for the apartment 

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘All reportable donations to the Conservative Party are correctly declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law.’

The spokesman said gifts and benefits received by Mr Johnson as Prime Minister would ‘be declared in Government transparency returns’. 

The official added that Mr Johnson had obeyed all ‘appropriate codes of conduct’ and Cabinet Office advice had been followed concerning the funding of the flat makeover.

Lord Brownlow and Mr Elliot declined to comment.

A Tory HQ spokesman said: ‘We have regular discussions with the Electoral Commission. We are very happy to explain to them how the rules have been correctly followed.’ 

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