Civil servants ‘insufficiently supported’ Boris Johnson on flat refurb, says ministerial code adviser

But review concludes prime minister acted "unwisely" over funding arrangements for Downing Street works
Photo: PA

The government’s new ethics adviser Lord Geidt has cleared the prime minister of wrongdoing over funding arrangements for the refurbishment of his official Downing Street flat, and has criticised civil servants for their support to Boris Johnson.

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 found that ultimately he had not breached the ministerial 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 arrangements 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 apartment 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.

The report also criticises the civil service processes in the project, concluding that the prime minister was “insufficiently supported” by officials.

Geidt highlighted that the prime minister had “simply accepted that the trust would be capable of satisfactorily resolving the situation without further interrogation” and that he was “ill-served when officials did become aware” of the fact the trust would not be established.

Geidt said that cabinet secretary Simon Case “acknowledges the shortcomings relating to project management and the failure to advise the prime minister of the situation in October 2020”.

“The cabinet secretary has assured me that every effort will be made, including by a careful review of relevant processes, to prevent such circumstances from reoccurring,” he added.

John Johnston is a reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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