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

26 April 2021, 23:09 | Updated: 28 April 2021, 19:18

Simon Case will review the revamp of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat
Simon Case will review the revamp of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The Cabinet Secretary will review the refurbishment of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat amid reports the Conservative Party initially paid for the renovation work.

Britain's most senior civil servant, Simon Case, said he was asked by the prime minister to look into the issue.

It comes after Mr Johnson's former top aide, Dominic Cummings, claimed the PM wanted donors to "secretly pay" for the revamp in a move which would have been "unethical, foolish, possibly illegal".

On Monday, No10 and the Tory Party refused to deny an ITV report that said the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) paid the Cabinet Office to cover the initial costs of the work, with the PM now repaying the party.

A Downing Street spokesman said that the "costs of wider refurbishment have been met by the prime minister personally", adding: "Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns."

Elsewhere, a Tory spokeswoman said: "All reportable donations to the Conservative Party are correctly declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law.

"Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in government transparency returns."

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However, the Labour Party has said "crucial puzzle pieces missing", and that the "stench around who may have lent him up to £200,000 for the refurb... will only grow" unless he publishes the delayed list of ministers' interests.

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: "This is yet another panicked attempt by the Conservatives to cover up the truth behind the original donors for the luxury refurbishment of the Downing Street flat."

While being quizzed by MPs on the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Monday, Mr Case said he did "not have all the facts and details at my disposal" on the refurbishment of the flat in No11.

"What I'm happy to tell you is that the prime minister has asked me to conduct a review because I've not been involved directly with this," he said.

The Cabinet Secretary said he expects the review to take "only a matter of weeks".

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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'".

To date, no such trust has been formed, but Mr Case told MPs he had been examining such a concept for the historic government buildings.

The head of the Civil Service said at present 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.

"On the question of a trust, there has been work on this for more than 12 months," he added.

"Chequers and Dorneywood are actually supported by trusts or a charitable trust and equivalent buildings around the world, like the White House I understand, is supported by a trust.

"No Downing Street trust currently exists. Work was begun last spring.

"Lord Brownlow agreed to be chair of a putative trust. There was work done to identify cross-party potential trustees."

But Mr Case added: "The first thing I would say is that a charitable trust can't cover private areas of Downing Street, so that's clear that that can't be done."

While visiting Wrexham on Monday, Mr Johnson did not deny discussing using donors to fund the work.

"If there's anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will, of course, be made in due course," he said.

Earlier on Monday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Mr Johnson had paid "out of his own pocket" for the flat upgrades.

"Do I think the prime minister is sleazy? No, I don't," he told the BBC.

"He paid out of his own money to refurbish the flat. He paid for his flat."

Meanwhile, Labour has called on the Electoral Commission to carry out a full investigation into the matter.

The commission, which first raised the issue with the Tories more than a month ago, confirmed at the weekend it was still looking into whether any of the sums relating to the work on the flat should have been declared.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "It's very important we have answers."

"It's all very well the prime minister saying, now, 'Well, I paid for it'. The critical question was what was the original arrangement and why is it so complicated?

"If there's a straightforward answer, then give it. If there isn't, then there are very serious questions to be asked."