For Boris Johnson, every day seems like a season finale. Just this morning the Prime Minister has been pilloried with questions about parties, seen his wife Carrie give birth for the second time and landed Tory members with a £17,800 fine for his Downing Street flat renovation. The Electoral Commission concluded its eight month probe into how the refurbishment was financed by accusing the Conservative Party of failing to 'keep a proper accounting record' around the £52,000 donation from Lord Brownlow to pay for the work. A Tory spokesman has said the party is considering whether to appeal and will make a decision within 28 days.
Even if his party decides not to appeal, the PM's troubles on 'flat-gate' are by no means at an end. For the commission has revealed that Johnson sent Brownlow a WhatsApp message in November 2020 requesting additional money from a trust set up to fund the scheme. But in May 2021, Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers' interests, was told by Johnson that he did not know who was behind the £52,000 flat refurb donation until February 2021 – just before reports emerged in the media. Downing Street is now facing questions as to whether the Prime Minister accidentally or intentionally Geidt.
The adviser's review in May 2021 stated that:
“For the credibility of this inquiry, I have tested the assertions of Lord Brownlow and the relevant political and government officials that at no point in the eight months until late February 2021, as media reports were emerging, was the Prime Minister made aware of either the fact or the method of the costs of refurbishing the apartment having been paid. I have spoken to these individuals in person; they have confirmed to me that these assertions are correct. In particular, Lord Brownlow behaved in a confidential manner consistent with his own experience of blind trusts. I have also spoken in similar terms to the Prime Minister who confirms that he knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021. At that point, the Prime Minister immediately sought the necessary advice about his interests and, as a consequence, settled the full amount himself on 8 March 2021.
But the Electoral Commission's report into the timeline of the refurbishment states today that:
“29 November 2020: the Prime Minister messaged Lord Brownlow via WhatsApp asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence. Lord Brownlow agreed to do so, and also explained that the proposed trust had not yet been set up but that he knew where the funding was coming from.
How will Number 10 be able to explain away this apparent discrepancy?