Key questions answered about Boris Johnson's flat refurb row and why it matters

Boris Johnson faces a furious backlash after appointing himself “judge and jury” in a so-called independent inquiry into his lavish revamp of the Downing Street flat.

No 10 admitted the Prime Minister will retain the power to clear himself of any possible breach of the ministerial code exposed by the probe.

His spokesman, asked if he could reject any findings against himself, said: “The Prime Minister will remain the ultimate arbiter of this, yep.”

It is separate from a bombshell Electoral Commission investigation announced today into the extravagant £58,000 refurbishment of the residence, overseen by fiancee Carrie Symonds.

The Government investigation will be carried out by the Queen’s former private secretary, Lord Christopher Geidt, who has been appointed the Government’s new sleaze buster.

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves with his partner Carrie Symonds after delivering his keynote speech to delegates on the final day of the annual Conservative Party conference at the Manchester Central convention complex, in Manchester, north-west England on October 2, 2019.
Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds oversaw the refurb

But the PM will still be able to overrule the findings of any inquiries undertaken by his new independent adviser on ministerial interests – including into his own conduct.

Here are seven key questions answered about the row – and why it matters.

What’s the row all about?

Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons, London. Issue date: Wednesday April 28, 2021.
The PM faces a backlash

The Prime Minister faces questions over a lavish refurb of the four-bed flat above 11 Downing Street overseen by his fiancee Carrie Symonds last year.

Every PM gets £30,000 a year to cover such costs, but the couple’s bill has gone £58,000 over – with some reports suggesting as high as £200,000 – after Ms Symonds was inspired by expensive designer Lulu Lytle.

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Who paid for the flat makeover?

Dominic Cummings is having his revenge on his old boss
Dominic Cummings is having his revenge on his old boss

Boris Johnson insisted he met all the costs of the renovations from his own pocket.

But it is claimed by Dominic Cummings that he tried to get Tory donors to pay first.

The Cabinet Office appears to have picked up the initial bill and been paid back by the Tory party, which the PM is reimbursing.

It suggests he was given help by a Tory donor in some form, at the very least in the form of a loan.

What’s this about a charitable trust?

Johnson was furious as Keir Starmer cornered him in PMQs today
Johnson was furious as Keir Starmer cornered him in PMQs today

Work has been ongoing for a full year to try to set up a charitable Trust to fund repairs in Downing Street.

Tory peer and donor Lord Brownlow had agreed to chair the Trust – but it still isn’t set up – and a charity would not be able to fund the private areas of Downing Street anyway.

Lord Brownlow emailed Tory chiefs in October saying he had given them £58,000 to cover the cost.

Why does it matter?

Starmer was cool-headed as he took the PM apart
Starmer was cool-headed as he took the PM apart

It is crucial that the PM does not take favours from people who could ask favours from him in return.

That’s why MPs and ministers have to declare gifts, hospitality, donations – to make sure any conflicts of interest can be policed.

We also need our authorities to be transparent to avoid these sorts of conflicts of interest.

After months of questioning, key questions remain unanswered.

And while it’s the PM’s residence, a lot of time and energy is being wasted on this issue while people still die of Covid every day.

Did Boris Johnson break any rules?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Wednesday April 28, 2021
Health Secretary Matt Hancock flatly refused to answer any questions about the matter at the coronavirus press briefing today

He insisted today that he had not and No 10 claimed he acted “in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law”.

But eyebrows have been raised – no donation or loan has been recorded with the Electoral Commission or on the PM’s register of interests within the time limits.

The watchdog said there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the law may have been broken by a failure to declare a donation.

Who is looking into it?

There are now three probes – Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is also leading an internal review which should conclude within weeks.

New ministerial sleazebuster Lord Christopher Geidt will conduct his own inquiry – but the PM doesn’t have to accept his findings.

But most worrying for No 10 will be the official investigation by the Electoral Commission into the Tory party’s funding of the refurbishment – and by extension Mr Johnson’s own finances.

What could happen if he’s found in breach?

If a party breaks the rules about making declarations to the Electoral Commission a range of sanctions are available – including fines of up to £20,000.

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Very serious offensives can also be referred to the police.

If there is a breach of the ministerial code, it would normally be the PM who decides the sanction.

But he is unlikely to sack himself.

However, the Commons Standards Committee could force him to apologise or suspend him from Parliament.

His position could be untenable.



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