Saturday 24 April 2021 / 11:38 AM Rachel Reeves

Labour demands full investigation from Prime Minister on luxury Downing Street flat refurb

Labour have written to the Prime Minister calling for a full investigation, after a statement from the government released quietly through a Parliamentary Question late on Friday failed to reveal the source of the original donor for the Downing Street flat refurb, but instead said the Prime Minister himself would be paying for the costs.

The original donor or donors of the refurbishment, reported to be worth up to £200,000, is still unknown, raising serious questions, the Party says, about who paid in the first place and whether there were any conflicts of interests given the recent sleaze scandal unfolding in government.

Labour have written to the Prime Minister demanding he makes it clear who originally paid for the refurb, why, when and how – as well as asking the Prime Minister to come clean about the allegations levelled at him by his former Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings that Johnson behaved unethically and possibly illegally in his management of the Downing Street flat refurb.

They have also underlined the increasing delay of the Register of Minister’s Interests and the lack of appointment of an Independent Adviser on Ministerial Standards.

Rachel Reeves MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, wrote:

“The Ministerial Code clearly states ‘Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public’. This has not happened.

“Given we know it only takes a text message from a friend to get the full attention at the top of your government, many people will wonder what personal goodwill could be generated by a secret donation to the redecoration of your living quarters.

“Any external financial aid to a Prime Minister’s lifestyle must of course be fully declared at the time and as the Ministerial Code makes clear, real and perceived conflicts of interest must be avoided.

“I believe there needs to be a full investigation given the gravity of the new accusations from your former Chief Adviser and the serious implications of other irregularities of this concerning episode.”

Full text of the letter from Rachel Reeves MP to Boris Johnson MP

Dear Prime Minister,

The seven ‘Nolan Principles’ for standards of public life are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. With these principles in mind, I was concerned, although not entirely surprised by the government’s suspicious approach to the funding and refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.

The government’s answer to the Parliamentary Question on the Prime Ministerial residence at Downing Street raised far more questions than it answered. Not only did it fail to reveal even the most basic details such as how much has been spent and paid for by whom, it provided no timeline of decision making.

Important issues of transparency have been entirely ignored, and it is not even clear whether electoral law has always been abided by. For example, the statement to parliament did not clarify whether you have effectively received a loan for the refurbishment and redecoration you intend to pay for, in excess of the £30,000 ‘allowance’ provided from the public purse, and whether you declared it to all relevant authorities.

Throughout the course of the last year the government has been repeatedly evasive about who has been paying for the refurbishment of the flat. Why? There have been repeated press reports and a leaked email indicating that significant sums of money have been secretly funnelled either through the Conservative Party or would go through a new trust chaired by a party donor.

Given we know it only takes a text message from a friend to get the full attention at the top of your government, many people will wonder what personal goodwill could be generated by a secret donation to the redecoration of your living quarters. Any external financial aid to a Prime Minister’s lifestyle must of course be fully declared at the time and as the Ministerial Code makes clear – real and perceived conflicts of interest must be avoided.

It increasingly appears that throughout this last year considerable government time has been spent managing the refurbishment of the flat and your approach to financing it while seeking to avoid transparency.

We need transparency around the timeline of the events, details of who knew what and when. I would like an explanation as to what precisely is so sensitive that it has taken up so much government time and meant the Head of the Civil Service had to be put in charge of the matter.

It was also deeply misleading for a Minister to claim yesterday that your government has “engaged” with the Labour party over this issue. On the contrary, your government has ignored repeated questions on basic transparency around this and as Prime Minister you have continued to drag your feet on publishing the overdue Register of Ministers’ Financial Interests for your government.

I am sure you have been made aware of the very serious claims made by your former Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings about your approach to the luxury refurbishment of the Downing Street flat and your opaque financial approach:

‘I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended. I refused to help him organise these payments. My knowledge about them is therefore limited. I would be happy to tell the Cabinet Secretary or Electoral Commission what I know concerning this matter.’

I am writing to you today urgently to ask you the following questions:

1. When will the Government release any correspondence relating to the payments or donations around this refurbishment?
2. What was the full amount spent on the refurbishment and when was the money for the refurbishment paid?
3. Why did you spend considerably more than £30,000 than the Cabinet Office thought was necessary and was prepared to provide?
4. Who paid for the work undertaken in the first instance, and who are you now intending to reimburse?
5. Why didn’t you pay for this additional work yourself from the outset?
6. Were there any real or perceived conflicts of interest at any stage with the original donors?
7. Did anyone provide you with a loan by initially paying for the work on the flat, and was this declared properly at the time along with any required changes in your tax status?
8. What is the current status of the much reported ‘trust’, will it seek to be ‘charitable’ and will it be chaired by Conservative donor Lord Brownlow as suggested by a leaked email involving the Conservative Party Chairman? This is a government building and there are implications of this approach beyond your time in office.
9. Have all aspects of any personal financial aid provided to you and your household been fully declared and do any sources of it include any members of your government?
10. What was your response to your Chief Adviser informing you last year that your plans were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and broke the rules on disclosing political donations?
11. How many government meetings have taken place over the course of 2020-21 in relation to the refurbishment of the flat and its financing?
12. At any point have there been any breaches of the Ministerial Code, electoral law or tax law and will you publish all advice on these matters?
13. When will the government publish thelong overdue Register of Ministers’ Interests?
14. When will an Independent Adviser on Ministerial Standards be appointed given the post has now been vacant for five months since the resignation of Sir Alex Allan?

The Ministerial Code clearly states ‘Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public’. This has not happened. Given growing public concern around Tory sleaze, a method of awarding of Covid contracts deemed vulnerable to corruption, growing conflicts of interest and cronyism stories building up day after day, I hope you will fully and promptly answer the above questions.

I believe there needs to be a full investigation given the gravity of the new accusations from your former Chief Adviser and the serious implications of other irregularities of this concerning episode.

Yours sincerely,

Rachel Reeves MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster