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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Cabinet Secretary Won’t Rule Out Private Donation Being Used By Boris Johnson To Pay For Refurbishment Of Downing Street Flat

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case would not say if the Prime Minister had used a private donation to pay for the refurbishments of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street (Parliamentlive.TV)

5 min read

The official in charge of ruling on ministers’ conduct has refused to rule out Boris Johnson using a private donation to pay for the costly refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said the Prime Minister had asked him to conduct a review into how the work was paid for, after a series of briefings and counter-claims.

It has been confirmed Johnson has now “personally met” the £58,000 costs, but questions remain amid suggestions he tried to set up a charitable trust to fund the work on the apartment above Number 11 Downing Street, where he lives with fiancee Carrie Symonds and their son Wilfred.

The PM’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings said he stopped talking to him about the matter last year because he thought plans “to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”.

In a blog refuting accusations he was behind the leaks on this matter the ex-aide said the idea “almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations” if conducted in the way the PM intended. 

The Electoral Commission is believed to be looking into whether any donations were properly declared, after leaked internal Conservative emails allegedly suggested money may have gone through the Party. In a separate development, HMRC is reportedly investigating the tax implications of any donation.

Appearing before the public administration and and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC), Case said “all of this will be declared in the proper way”, and Johnson “will make relevant declarations”.

Asked if he was aware of any private donations being used to cover the cost of refurbishing the flats at Downing Street, he said: “So what I'm happy to tell you is that the Prime Minister has asked me to conduct a review, because I was not been involved directly in this.”

PACAC member David Jones asked again if he was “aware whether or not any private donations have been used,” adding: “That's a straightforward 'yes' or 'no'.”

Case replied: “As I said, the Prime Minister has asked me to conduct a review into how this has been done and asked that I share the details of those conclusions with the committee.”

When asked about the renovations while on the campaign trail in Wrexham this morning, Johnson did not deny discussing using donations to fund the work. 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."

Earlier, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "It's all very well the Prime Minister saying, now, 'well, I paid for it’. The critical question was - what was the original arrangement, and why is it so complicated?

"If there's a straightforward answer, then give it. If there isn't, then there are very serious questions to be asked.”

Case suggested the results of his review would be published in “a matter of weeks,” but refused several more times to deny the PM had originally met the costs of the flat thanks to a donation.

The head of the civil service, who is also responsible for administering the ministerial code, confirmed no charitable trust had been set up to cover the cost of maintenance or refurbishment of the flat.

Asked if the electoral watchdog was investigating he replied: “So as I understand it, there is an ongoing conversation between the Electoral Commission and CCHQ.

"But obviously, that's not a matter for civil servants or the government side. I'm not sighted on the detail of those conversations.”

He was also asked a number of questions about the Cabinet Office inquiry into the so-called “chatty rat” who leaked details of the second coronavirus lockdown before it was publicly announced.

Case apologised for his inability to give MPs more information about the leak investigation, and suggested the culprit may never be identified.

"I hope the committee will understand I'm very constrained in what I can say given the security classification of the leak inquiry,” he said.

"What I can say is the investigation is ongoing and this is a clear indication that the source or sources haven't been identified.

"In the time that has now passed, I think it is probable that the team will not successfully identify the source or sources, but work is ongoing.”

PACAC chair William Wragg suggested "relatively few" people would have known the information leaked in October, "so it's a rather small pool in which to fish" to discover who was behind the leak.

Case said: "I'm not trying to frustrate you or other members of the committee on this but we are going here into the details of the investigation and who knew what and this is an area where I am constrained because if I go further on this it will start to reveal the details of the investigation."

He would not comment on the claim by Cummings that both he and the former Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain had already been exonerated.

However he said the House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was being updated on the investigation in secret, under Privy Council terms.

Asked if the level of secrecy was because it was a police matter, Case told the PACAC the Crown Prosecution process concluded "this leak did not meet the threshold for an offence under the Official Secrets Act or the offence of misconduct in public office".

But he added: "Just because something isn't a criminal offence doesn't mean there aren't national security issues involved - or classified matters - in relation to how that investigation is conducted.

"That's why I'm unable to comment."

Asked if the security services were involved in the leak investigation, Mr Case said: "We have a long-standing policy of neither confirming nor denying such things."

He said the decision to restrict his answers was taken "in collaboration with the Government Security Group,” which runs out of the Cabinet Office and "is responsible for the oversight, coordination and delivery of protective security within all central government departments, their agencies and arms-length bodies".

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