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Boris Johnson Acted "Unwisely" Over Funding For Downing Street Flat Refurb But Did Not Breach Ministerial Code

Boris Johnson did not breach the ministerial code, an official report has concluded (PA)

3 min read

New ethics adviser Lord Geidt has cleared the Prime Minister over funding arrangements for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.

Lord Geidt, the PM's independent adviser on ministerial interests, said Johnson had acted "unwisely" by allowing the work to begin without fully understanding how it would be paid for, but that ultimately he had not breached the code.

The PM had been facing a series of inquiries over the funding of the works in the No.11 flat after he initially refused to set out how the refurbishments had been paid for.

In a report published on Friday, the adviser revealed invoices for the works had been paid by the Cabinet Office and then recharged to the Conservative Party in June 2020, where it was expected a legal trust led by Tory peer Lord Brownlow would reimburse the party.

Geidt said that ultimately the legal trust was not established and that Lord Brownlow had personally settled invoices for some of the works "directly with the supplier".

The report added that Johnson had placed a "reliance" that the trust would be established and capable of paying the costs, saying the PM's focus on the pandemic had meant he was not made aware of the funding arranagements until media reports were published earlier this year.

He added it was clear that efforts to establish the trust were a "serious and genuine endeavour" but had stalled because they were not subjected to a "scheme of rigorous project management by officials".

He added: "The Prime Minister – unwisely, in my view – allowed the refurbishment of the appartment at No.11 Downing Street to proceed without more rigorous regard for how this would be funded."

Geidt concluded that neither the involvement of the Conservative Party or Lord Brownlow placed any "different obligations" on the Prime Minister and that as he had sought advice on the matter following media reports, that he had not breached his obligations under the code.

However, the report hit out at cabinet secretary Simon Case for "shortcomings" in the project's management, saying Sedwill had provided "assurances" that a careful review of the processes would be carried out.

Meanwhile, the report also concluded Health Secretary Matt Hancock had committed a "minor breach" of the ministerial code concerning his shares in Topwood Ltd - a firm run by his sister and brother-in-law.

Geidt said the Health Secretary should have declared his shares given the firm was awarded a framework contract with NHS Shared Busines Services in February 2019, when Hancock was in his role.

However, the report concluded Hancock's failure to declare was as a result of his "lack of knowledge and in no way deliberate, and therefore, in technical terms, a minor breach of the ministerial code."

But he added Hancock had "acted with integrity throughout and that this event should in no way impugn his good character or ministerial record".

In an exchange of letters following the report, Hancock told the PM that in February 2019 he had "no involvement in, interest in, ownership of, or anything else to do with the company".

He added: "I did not know about the framework decision, and so I do not think I could reasonably have been expected to declare it."

Johnson responded that he accepted Lord Geidt's findings and added: "I do not consider that any further action is required."

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