Ministers tie themselves in knots refusing to answer question about Boris Johnson flat scandal

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4 min read

Watch: Ministers quizzed over Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat refurbishment

Who initially paid to “tart up” the prime minister's Downing Street flat?

It’s the seemingly simple question two cabinet ministers have now tied themselves in knots over.

Boris Johnson is continuing to face allegations that he asked Conservative Party donors to pay for a pricy refurbishment, reportedly running to £200,000, of his Downing Street flat.

It comes after his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings claimed the PM wanted donors to “secretly pay for the renovation”, in a move Cummings called “unethical, foolish" and "possibly illegal”.

WREXHAM, WALES  - APRIL 26: Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins Alex Loven, owner of Next World Sports (2nd L) and Jeremy Kent, Wrexham AM candidate for the Conservatives (L) as the Prime Minister campaigns in Wales ahead of elections on April 26, 2021 in Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom. (Photo by Rob Formstone-WPA Pool-Getty Images)
Boris Johnson on a campaign visit in Wales on Monday. (Rob Formstone/pool/Getty Images)

Two cabinet ministers, defence secretary Ben Wallace and international trade secretary Liz Truss, have now gone on the record as saying Johnson paid for the work out of his own pocket.

However, both repeatedly refused to say whether the bill was initially settled by the Conservative Party or one of its donors, in which case it should have been declared as a loan under party funding rules.

Wallace had a difficult time as he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

He insisted: “As the prime minister has been clear, the prime minister paid personally for the flat.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace arriving at BBC Broadcasting House in central London to appear on the BBC1 current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show. Picture date: Sunday March 21, 2021. (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)
Defence secretary Ben Wallace (Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)

“The prime minister has complied at all stages with the rules and we’ve been very clear on that.

“We have engaged with the Electoral Commission and we will continue to engage with that.”

When put to him that Johnson and his colleagues “initially spent months… saying to Tory Party donors 'give us the cash, the PM can’t afford it, he needs the money to tart up the flat he gets rent-free'”, Wallace said he didn't “recognise” these claims and that they are “based on a large amount of speculation”.

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.

Wallace said: “The prime minister, as I’ve said, paid for it out of his money.

“The action he did was he paid the money for the flat out of his own pocket.”

When asked whether Johnson paid for the refurb initially, Wallace didn’t answer.

Liz Truss had a similarly difficult time appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss is interviewed for the Sophy Ridge on Sunday show outside BBC Broadcasting House in central London before appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show. Picture date: Sunday April 25, 2021. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Liz Truss pictured on Sunday. (Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)

She insisted: “I do know the spending has been covered by him personally.

“It has come from his own pocket.”

“My understanding is the costs have been covered by the prime minister and everything is being fully declared in line with the rules.”

Asked if a party donor lent him the money beforehand, however, Truss also refused to answer the question.

She said: “As I said, he is covering the costs and it’s being complied with fully.”

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When the question was repeated, she refused to answer again: “I am spending my time in intense trade negotiations, getting a good deal for the UK. I am not spending my time thinking about the Downing Street flat refurbishment.

“What I know is the prime minister has personally met the cost of the flat refurbishment.”

The Electoral Commission, which first raised the issue with the Conservatives 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.

Speaking to reporters in Wrexham on Monday, meanwhile, Johnson himself did not deny discussing using donations to fund the Downing Street flat refurbishment.

Asked about this, he said: “If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will, of course, be made in due course.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove later told MPs in the House of Commons: “The PM paid for the renovation of the flat. All donations to the PM, or any other MP, or indeed political parties will be declared appropriately and properly.”

Watch: We need to get to the bottom of allegations, says Sir Keir Starmer