Boris Johnson‘s new chief of staff warned it was ‘crazy’ to ask wealthy Tory donors to fund a lavish renovation of the Prime Minister’s flat.
Sources told the Mail that Dan Rosenfield reacted angrily when he started his job in January and discovered the details of plans drawn up by officials to help the Prime Minister pay for the six-figure overhaul of the Downing Street flat he shares with fiancee Carrie Symonds.
A well-placed source said: ‘He couldn’t believe anyone had allowed such a crazy arrangement to go ahead in the first place – or that so much time had been spent on trying and failing to sort out the mess.’
Last night it emerged that former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling turned down an invitation to join a new trust overseeing the maintenance of No10. Lord Darling is said to have feared it could be used by wealthy donors as a way of trying to gain influence over the PM.
Parliament was told last week that Mr Johnson has now paid the £58,000 excess cost of the refurbishment carried out by trendy designer Lulu Lytle. It is thought the cash-strapped PM had to take out a personal loan to cover the cost, which ran far beyond the £30,000 annual maintenance allowance available to prime ministers.
Sources told the Mail that Dan Rosenfield (pictured) reacted angrily when he started his job in January and discovered plans drawn up to help the Prime Minister fund his flat renovation
Sources have told the Mail the bill was initially settled last summer by the Cabinet Office before being repaid by the Conservative Party in July. This newspaper has revealed that Tory donor Lord Brownlow later made a £58,000 donation to cover the sum.
Sources told the Mail yesterday that the PM also discussed asking either billionaire Tory donor Lord Bamford or multi-millionaire environment minister Zac Goldsmith to foot the bill.
The revelations suggest that No10 officials may have been diverted from work on the pandemic to try to devise a way that would allow someone else to pay for the makeover of the PM’s flat. No10 declined to comment on the claim or on the role played by Mr Rosenfield.
Labour raised the temperature last night by accusing the PM of ‘lying’ about who settled the original bill. Sir Keir Starmer is expected to challenge Mr Johnson over the issue in the Commons today, along with the explosive claim that he said he would rather see ‘bodies pile high in their thousands’ than order a third lockdown.
Boris Johnson gestures as he visits Llandudno, Wales, Britain, April 26, 2021
Mr Johnson has denied the claim, which has now been reported by the Mail, the BBC and ITV from multiple sources.
But No10 did not deny reports yesterday that the PM told officials last September he would rather ‘let Covid rip’ than order another lockdown, saying only it was a ‘distortion’ of his views.
Amid signs of Tory disquiet, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross yesterday refused three times to say he believed the PM is ‘a man of integrity and honour’.
No10 yesterday tried to distract attention away from the audit trail leading back to the Conservative Party by issuing a statement saying: ‘Any costs of wider refurbishment this year beyond those provided for by the annual allowance have been met by the Prime Minister personally. Conservative Party funds are not being used for this.’ However, sources acknowledged the statement did not cover the question of whether the Tory Party bailed out the PM last year.
Last night it emerged that Mr Johnson could be fined or even suspended from Parliament if he failed properly to declare donations that helped to fund the renovations. Parliamentary sources said the PM is likely to face ‘enhanced sanctions’ if he is found to have breached rules on declaring political donations.
Parliament was told last week that Mr Johnson has now paid the £58,000 excess cost of the refurbishment carried out by trendy designer Lulu Lytle
The Electoral Commission yesterday confirmed it is still examining whether failure to disclose the arrangements may have breached electoral law.
Mr Johnson ducked questions on the issue this week, saying: ‘If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.’
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey defended the refurbishment and said it was ‘no surprise’ that he wanted to make changes as he has a young family.
‘The Prime Minister has probably spent more time in the No10 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 No10 want to make changes.’
Asked if she would spend £5,900 on an armchair as reported, Miss Coffey said: ‘The point is that the Prime Minister has paid for those. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to spend their money how they wish.’
Hannah White, deputy director of the Institute for Government, said any financial assistance with the flat would have to be declared to Parliament, as well as on the much-delayed register of ministerial interests.
Dr White noted that Mr Johnson has a ‘bit of a record of being late’ in declaring interests, adding: ‘It’s not something he has a history of giving great priority to.’ Records show he has been reprimanded for making ten previous late declarations of financial interests.
In 2019, the Commons standards committee warned he would face a ‘more serious sanction’ than a simple apology if he repeated the transgression.
Downing Street hopes to bypass Parliament by declaring the financial help in the next edition of the register of ministerial interests.
But the PM is still trying to persuade someone to take the role of adviser on ministerial standards following the resignation of Sir Alex Allan in the wake of the Priti Patel bullying row last November.
The lead candidate is said to be ‘wobbling’ over concerns about the freedom and authority they will have to pursue allegations.
And ministers acknowledged that Labour is certain to demand an investigation if the donations are not also reported.
David Howarth, a former commissioner at the Electoral Commission, said it was clear that any loans and donations of more than £1,500 made to help pay for the flat should have been declared to the watchdog via Parliament.
He said failure to declare the funding within a month of it being accepted would be ‘a breach of the rule’.
It’s hardly the first time he’s been slow to declare interests
By Daniel Martin Policy Editor
The Prime Minister was ticked off by the Parliamentary standards watchdog two years ago for registering his financial interests late.
Following two separate investigations, he was found guilty of declaring his interests late on at least five occasions.
It comes amid concern that Boris Johnson failed to register a donation or loan of £58,000 for the refurbishment of his flat at No11 Downing Street.
Two years ago the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards concluded that Mr Johnson had been late reporting on a number of other occasions.
Boris Johnson visits a farm as he campaigns on behalf of the Conservative Party for local elections, at Moreton farm near Wrexham, north Wales, Monday, April 26, 2021
In January 2019, six months before he became Prime Minister, he registered an interest in the form of a 20 per cent share of property in Somerset – a year after he learned he had acquired the stake. Mr Johnson apologised for the mistake, saying he had misread the rules.
Kathryn Stone, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, wrote: ‘I accept that the Member had misunderstood the House’s rules but he should have checked more carefully what was required of him’. She noted that this was not the first time the PM had fallen foul of the rules.
In autumn 2018 she concluded an investigation into a complaint against Mr Johnson which established that on four previous occasions in the recent past he was late in registering financial interests. This involved nine separate payments.
He had to apologise to the House of Commons, which he did that December.
The Commissioner stated: ‘His failure to check properly that he brought his Register entry up to date during the last inquiry might be regarded as a lack of respect for the House’s rules and the standards system. That does not demonstrate the leadership one would expect.’
The Commons standards committee said: ‘We conclude with concern that these two investigations in rapid succession demonstrate a pattern of behaviour.
‘While there is no suggestion that he has tried deliberately to conceal his interests, this latest breach reinforces the view we expressed in our previous report, that he has displayed ‘an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the House’.
‘Should we conclude in future that Mr Johnson has committed any further breaches of the rules on registration, we will regard this as a matter which may call for more serious sanction.’