Boris Johnson was criticised by his standards advisor over an investigation into his Downing Street apartment’s refurbishment.
Lord Geidt was apologetic to Mr Johnson for not having seen the messages that the PM had exchanged with the Tory peer who originally paid for the overhaul.
The election watchdog conducted a separate investigation into how these works were funded.
Lord Geidt claimed it was an “insufficient” respect for his role.
He said they wouldn’t have altered the conclusion of his investigation that Johnson hadn’t violated the ministerial rulesbook.
Johnson replied to him in a series of letters that he had exchanged with Johnson. He said they would have allowed Johnson to question certain conclusions from the report published in May.
Lord Geidt was rebuffed by Mr Johnson, who offered an “humbled and sincere sorry” and stated that the messages had been sent using a prior mobile phone to which he didn’t have access and that he couldn’t recall any exchanges.
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This text exchange by Mr Johnson with Lord Brownlow is published today. On Thursday, Johnson asked Lord Brownlow if he would be able to contact an interior design firm to discuss new redecorations.
The idea of Lord Brownlow overseeing a trust for charitable funds was suggested by Mr Johnson. It was eventually abandoned.
Lord Brownlow was told by Mr Johnson that some parts of Johnson’s official residence where renovations began in April 2020 were still “still a little tip”. He wanted Lulu Lytle to carry on the renovations.
A couple of hours later, Lord Brownlow replied, and then in a subsequent message, he added that the trust had not yet been set up but “approval is a doddle as it’s only me and I know where the £ will come from”.
In his original report, Lord Geidt cleared the PM of a conflict of interest, after it emerged that Lord Brownlow had donated £52,000 to help cover costs.
He claimed that the prime minster did not know that Lord Brownlow originally paid for the redecorations using his own money.
After it emerged that in November, the PM sent WhatsApp messages directly to the Tory peer, he reexamined his original probe.
The messages were revealed as part of an investigation by the Electoral Commission, which fined the Conservatives £17,800 last month for failing to accurately declare Lord Brownlow’s donations.
Downing Street stated that Johnson believed Lord Brownlow was responsible for the money but didn’t realize the peer was funding it.
Lord Geidt stated in his letter to the PM that Johnson was unable to find the messages due to security concerns.
He stated that although it was “plainly unacceptable”, he didn’t know about their existence in his initial investigation.
He expressed his “grave concern” that Johnson’s officials had not alerted Johnson to the fact that the phone had been accessed later in June 2020.
“I feel that this episode did not demonstrate sufficient respect for the independent advisor role,” he said.
He said that the failure to disclose “shook me confidence” as well as “real failures in process” which had occurred in various parts of government.
‘Serious question marks’
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, claimed that it implied the prime minister was not following rules regarding ministerial conduct and had “little regard for truth or the rules”.
Boris Johnson’s office is being undermined by his attempts to hide the truth,” she said.
“The Prime Minister’s ridiculous excuses will fool nobody, and this just the latest episode in a long list of sorry stories.”
Wendy Chamberlain (Liberal Democrat Chief Whip) said that this episode raises serious question marks about the original investigation into Lord Geidt.
The PM was also ridiculed by her, claiming he had changed his mobile phone and that the messages were not disclosed. She also called it “akin to your dog eating homework”.
It is not comfortable for No 10 to receive the WhatsApp messages from Lord Brownlow and Prime Minister. Lord Brownlow is not happy with the WhatsApp messages between Prime Minister and Lord Brownlow. It is clear that Lord Geidt was very upset by the fact that they were not disclosed sooner.
The messages raise new questions about Lord Brownlow’s backing of a particular project.
Boris Johnson said that he was “on the grand exhibition plan”, in reference to the concept of major exposition in Britain.
Lord Brownlow, a supporter of the PM’s campaign for peace and stability in Afghanistan, thanks him for his thoughts.
However, some may wonder why the prime minster brought up Lord Brownlow’s project. This was in an attempt to get more money out of a trust that he controls.
No. 10 claims the Great Exhibition was scrapped. But records show that Lord Brownlow actually met with the culture secretary to discuss the matter a few weeks following his meeting with the PM.
Another idea was supported by the government – Festival UK, or Unboxed. This is a celebration of creativity that will be hosted across the UK later in this year.
Labour claimed no-one should be allowed to “buy access”, and the PM needed to address serious issues.
The 2019 Conservative manifesto included a promise for major Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 2022. It is understood that Lord Brownlow was not included.
Downing Street explained that ministers, prime ministers, and other officials receive numerous proposals. They also regularly meet with stakeholder representatives as part their engagement in a range of topics.
“In keeping with the normal practice, the idea was sent to the appropriate department. The government did not take it forward.”
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