'I don't really see a big problem with John Lewis': PM faces growing scrutiny over flat refurbishment

27 April 2021, 16:18 | Updated: 27 April 2021, 16:27

Boris Johnson is facing mounting questions over his Downing Street flat refurbishment
Boris Johnson is facing mounting questions over his Downing Street flat refurbishment. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Boris Johnson is facing further scrutiny over the lavish makeover of his Downing Street flat, with leading Labour MPs questioning why he spent tens of thousands of pounds replacing John Lewis furniture.

Questions are mounting after former aide Dominic Cummings said the Prime Minster wanted donors to "secretly pay" for the work in an "unethical, foolish, possibly illegal" move.

Last week, the Daily Mail published details of an email from Tory peer Lord Brownlow in which he said he was making a £58,000 donation to the party "to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed 'Downing Street Trust'".

READ MORE: Top official to review Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat refurbishment

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Mr Johnson and fiancee Carrie Symonds are said to have wanted to replace what has been termed Theresa May's "John Lewis furniture nightmare".

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told reporters in Westminster today: "I think a lot of people would look at what's taken place here with the Prime Minister's flat really with incredulity.

"I have to say I really like John Lewis myself, I don't really see a big problem with John Lewis.

"Ultimately, what's this about? It's about that issue of one rule for them and another rule for everybody else.

"Sixty thousands pounds is a lot of money to do up a flat, it appears that wasn't enough and that's why these questions are being raised in the first place.

"I would be astonished if that amount of money wasn't enough to do up a flat."

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News: "We know he [Mr Johnson] wanted to upgrade his flat because he didn't think John Lewis furniture was good enough.

"I think John Lewis furniture is pretty good actually, pretty posh stuff."

Earlier, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey defended the refurbishment and told LBC it was "no surprise" Mr Johnson wanted to make changes as he has a young family.

"The Prime Minister has probably spent more time in the Number 10 flat than prime ministers normally would," she said.

"Also, the birth of his young son, having his family there, so I think it's no surprise if people with a different sort of family atmosphere moving into a private residence in Number 10 want to make changes."

No 10 declined to deny the PM received a loan from the Conservative Party, with Mr Johnson’s spokesman saying: "Any costs of the wider refurbishment in No 10 have been met by the Prime Minister and he has acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law." 

The Tories also declined to deny a suggestion, first reported by ITV, that the Conservative Campaign Headquarters paid the Cabinet Office to cover initial costs of the refurbishment, with Mr Johnson now repaying the party.

Labour has called for a full investigation by the Electoral Commission into the situation, while adding that the "stench... will only grow" unless Mr Johnson published the long-delayed list of ministers' interests.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said the list, last published in July, would not be updated until after No 10 appoints a new independent adviser on ministerial standards.

Sir Alex Allan resigned from the role in November in response to Mr Johnson standing by Home Secretary Priti Patel despite an investigation finding her conduct "amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying".

The spokesman said: "The declaration of interests that will be made available once we've appointed the replacement for Alex Allan, that work is in train.

"One of the first things that person will then do is then look at the ministerial interests and then make sure they can be published in the normal manner."

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has been tasked with reviewing the refurbishment.

The head of the Civil Service said there is a budget of up to £30,000 per year for prime ministers to renovate their Downing Street residency, with any costs beyond that met privately by those in office.