UK PM's Ethics Adviser Pressed to Reopen Probe Into Boris Johnson’s Flat Refurbishment
© JACK HILLBritain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference to update the nation on the status of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the Downing Street briefing room in central London on January 4, 2022.
© JACK HILL
New data obtained from correspondence between Johnson and a Tory peer who financed the refurbishment has added weight to allegations of conflict of interest and violation of lobbying rules against the prime minister.
The Labour Party's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has pressured the UK prime minister's ethics adviser Christopher Geidt to reopen his probe into alleged misconduct related to the refurbishment of Boris Johnson's flat at No 11 Downing Street. She said that the closure of the investigation "raises a number of serious concerns and questions" and that the probe should be renewed in light of the new findings.
It emerged earlier this week that the Cabinet Office failed to disclose a WhatsApp exchange between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and David Brownlow, a Tory peer who financed the flat's refurbishment. The correspondence showed the two discussing refurbishment plans, while also conversing about "the great exhibition plan" – Brownlow's proposal for a "modern recreation of the festival organised by Prince Albert in 1851".
"PS am on the great exhibition plan. Will revert", Johnson wrote to Brownlow in one of the messages, with the latter responding "Thanks for thinking about GE2", while assuring that he would "get it sorted" with funding the refurbishment.
Geidt earlier closed the probe into the refurbishment's funding, stating that Brownlow had "altruistic and philanthropic motives". However, Angela Rayner insists that this conclusion is undermined by the WhatsApp messages that were revealed as a part of an investigation by the Electoral Commission and alleged that the prime minister might have engaged in a "funds for favours" exchange.
Rayner further stressed that even if Brownlow's motives were "altruistic", it was "irrelevant" to the case:
"The issue is that a reasonable person could surely perceive that his financial relationship with the prime minister has provided him with privileged access to government, and that relationship was undeclared at the time".
The Labour deputy leader slammed Geidt for seemingly holding the prime minister to a "far weaker" standard of transparency than a backbench member of the Parliament. She demanded that the ethics adviser reopen the probe and either amend his previous report or publish a new one. Geidt has not commented on Rayner's demands.
The prime minister’s ethics adviser also faced pressure from the Labour Party’s lawyers from firm Edwards Duthie Shamash, who accused him of "apparent failure" of his investigation to get to the bottom of things and specifically to obtain the WhatsApp correspondence between Johnson and Brownlow.
"Failure to ask the searching questions necessary to get to the truth of this matter and that such failures should not allow the prime minister to escape the consequences of apparent breaches of the ministerial code", the firm said in its letter to Geidt.
Responding to the revelation of the WhatsApp correspondence and the opening of an investigation into the Cabinet Office's failure to disclose it, Johnson offered his "humble and sincere apology" for failing to provide it. He blamed unspecified "security issues" for failing to do so.