In depth: The gilded makeover of the No 11 flat and Boris Johnson’s battle to pay for it

Boris Johnson – Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty Photographs

Nothing flatters Boris Johnson fairly a lot as comparisons to his nice hero Winston Churchill, and in a single respect the 2 are undeniably alike: their troublesome struggles with their very own funds.

Churchill consistently needed to flip to rich buddies for assist when he overstretched himself, whether or not it was to cowl money owed on his nation residence, Chartwell, huge invoices from his shirt makers, or the astronomical prices of his champagne and cigar consumption. Within the pre-war years, he was repeatedly attacked by opposition MPs over the presents and loans he wanted to remain afloat.

Mr Johnson inadvertently emulated his wartime predecessor when he and his pregnant girlfriend (now fiancée) Carrie Symonds determined to embark on a lavish redecoration of the grace and favour flat they share above No 11 Downing Road.

In January 2020, when Brexit was but to occur and Covid was an obscure illness inflicting issues in China, the couple had been basking within the success of Mr Johnson’s common election win the earlier month.

The couple may look ahead to 5 extra years in Downing Road, or even perhaps longer, and had been about to begin a household. Nonetheless, Miss Symonds, it’s claimed, was unhappy with the “John Lewis nightmare” decor of the flat, left behind by Theresa Might.

Costly tastes

The couple weren’t alone in wanting to place their very own stamp on what may solely ever be a brief residence: Cherie Blair reportedly carried out a £127,000 modernisation of the flat, then David and Samantha Cameron spent £64,000 having the kitchen and loo ripped out and changed.

Prime Ministers are given a taxpayer-funded allowance of as much as £30,000 per year to cover refurbishments of the flat, which could appear beneficiant to the typical house owner, however it was nowhere close to sufficient for Mr Johnson and Miss Symonds’ costly tastes.

Miss Symonds commissioned top-end inside designers Soane Britain, run by darling of the trendy set Lulu Lytle, to provide the place a revamp.

Ms Lytle’s creations will not be for the financially faint-hearted: her Bear Couch prices £19,950, an Owl lampshade prices £11,600, a Venus chair is £5,900 and Dianthus wallpaper prices £840 per roll.

Mr Johnson reportedly informed aides the redecoration was costing “tens and tens of hundreds – I can’t afford it!”

David Cameron  - Tom Stoddart Archive /Premium Archive David Cameron  - Tom Stoddart Archive /Premium Archive 

David Cameron – Tom Stoddart Archive /Premium Archive

In accordance with the Each day Mail, he additionally moaned: “The fee is completely uncontrolled – she’s shopping for gold wallpaper!”

His remark might have been meant each actually and metaphorically, as Soane Britain does promote wallpaper in Yellow Gold and Previous Gold hues.

The entire value ran to £88,000, leaving Mr Johnson personally accountable for £58,000 as soon as the £30,000 allowance had been swallowed up.

For a person who earns £150,000 a yr and beforehand earned greater than £350,000 a yr from journalism and talking engagements, such a sum would possibly seem totally manageable.

However he had simply been via a expensive divorce from his ex-wife Marina, through which the household residence in London was bought and Mr Johnson saved his former constituency residence in Oxfordshire, which the couple initially purchased in 2003. In July 2019 he and Miss Symonds had additionally purchased a house collectively in Camberwell, south London, at a price of £1.2 million, for which they wanted a mortgage.

Mr Johnson additionally took out a mortgage on the Oxfordshire property, and put it on the rental marketplace for £4,250 per thirty days.

Cash woes

The Prime Minister had been complaining about cash for a while, and because the prices of the Downing Road refurbishment mounted, he made it clear he wanted assist paying the payments.

Maybe impressed by Churchill, Mr Johnson reportedly turned to allies with deep pockets, beginning with JCB boss Lord Bamford, whose donations to the Tory occasion have topped £10 million.

That plan didn’t come to fruition and as early as February final yr Mr Johnson is known to have prompt the concept of a blind belief, which may obtain nameless donations, to protect the entire Downing Road advanced as a public constructing. An identical scheme is used within the White Home to pay for the maintenance of the US President’s workplace.

He enlisted the assistance of Tory Occasion chairman Ben Elliot to type out the mess over his funds, and Mr Elliot reportedly informed him he ought to take out a private mortgage to cowl the fee.

Mr Johnson deserted the blind belief thought, which had been deemed a non-starter by the Cupboard Workplace, and a distinct kind of belief was proposed with one other Tory donor, Lord Brownlow, agreeing to go it.

Lord Brownlow, who made his tens of millions from a enterprise consultancy, was vice-chairman of the Tory occasion till July final yr.

Lord Darling, the previous Labour chancellor, was requested to sit down on the belief to make sure it had cross-party help, however declined as a result of he was anxious it could entice donors who would need one thing in return.

As we now know from his weblog, the Prime Minister’s then chief adviser Dominic Cummings was deeply unsettled by the affair and informed Mr Johnson that the proposals for funding the refurbishment had been “unethical, silly and probably unlawful”.

Pals of Mr Elliot have mentioned he “tried to cease the insanity repeatedly”, and Dan Rosenfield, who grew to become Mr Johnson’s new chief of workers in January this yr, can be understood to have been shocked at what was occurring.

Who coated the invoice?

By June, with the adorning invoice overdue for fee, the Cupboard Workplace seems to have coated the complete £88,000 value of the refurbishment on the understanding that £58,000 could be repaid by Mr Johnson.

Whereas Mr Johnson and his aides tried to agree a manner of acquiring the cash, Conservative central workplace paid the excellent £58,000 to the Cupboard Workplace, although this too was an issue: below Electoral Fee guidelines, occasion funds can solely be used for political campaigning.

In accordance with the Each day Mail, a leaked e mail reveals that on Oct 23, because the second wave of coronavirus was escalating, Lord Brownlow informed Mr Elliot he had made a £58,000 “donation” to Tory HQ to cowl the sum paid by the occasion to the Cupboard Workplace, and that it needs to be attributed to the “quickly to be shaped Downing Road Belief” which he was to go. Precisely when he made the donation stays unknown.

So far, the belief has nonetheless not been shaped, and after Cupboard Secretary Simon Case informed MPs this week that it couldn’t be used to pay for refurbishments to the flat anyway, it appears doubtless the belief thought will die a loss of life.

A person who answered the intercom at Lord Brownlow’s nation residence close to Studying would solely say “no remark” when requested in regards to the £58,000 donation.

Earlier this week Quantity 10 launched an announcement saying that all the refurbishment prices “have been met by the Prime Minister personally”, however that doesn’t reply the query of the place he bought the cash from, nor who he paid it to.

Conflict within the Commons

Quantity 10’s numerous statements haven’t dominated out the likelihood that the redecorating payments had been initially paid by another person, a degree which was hammered residence by Labour chief Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Sir Keir gave the Prime Minister a a number of selection query, saying: “That is the preliminary bill – both the taxpayer paid the preliminary bill, or it was the Conservative Occasion, or it was a personal donor, or it was the Prime Minister.

“I’m making it straightforward for the Prime Minister – it’s now a number of selection. There are solely 4 choices. It needs to be simpler than discovering the ‘chatty rat’.

“I ask him once more: who paid the preliminary bill – the preliminary bill, Prime Minister – for the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s flat?”

Starmer -  Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/EPA-EFE/ShutterstockStarmer -  Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Starmer – Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Mr Johnson would solely repeat that “I’ve coated the prices”, although he mentioned revealingly that “any additional declaration that I’ve to make” will come after session together with his new requirements adviser, Lord Geidt (who beforehand labored because the Queen’s non-public secretary).

Sir Keir prompt that Mr Johnson “through the pandemic was nipping out of conferences to decide on wallpaper at £840 a roll” and mocked him for asking the Cupboard Secretary, Simon Case, to analyze who paid for the refurbishment of the flat.

“Why doesn’t the Prime Minister simply inform him?” he requested. “That will be the tip of the investigation.”

His private assaults on Mr Johnson succeeded in at the very least one respect – they clearly riled the Prime Minister, who made no try to disguise his anger on the Labour chief’s onslaught.

Investigation launched

The Electoral Fee has launched an investigation into the affair, saying there have been “cheap grounds to suspect that an offence or offences might have occurred”.

Underneath the watchdog’s guidelines, all loans of greater than £7,500 have to be declared. So far, no mortgage from Lord Brownlow has appeared within the Electoral Fee’s register (although it does comprise particulars of donations totalling £2,256,174 made by him to the occasion, the latest being a sum of £1,250 in November).

Mr Johnson has, to this point, made no point out of any presents or loans regarding the flat within the Register of MPs’ Pursuits, the place advantages and loans are alleged to be registered inside 28 days.

In the meantime John Lewis, whose “nightmare” furnishings allegedly set the ball rolling on “wallpapergate”, took the slight in its stride. On the division retailer’s official Twitter account, it informed clients: “Time for an interiors refresh? We delight our Residence Design Service on having one thing for *virtually* everybody.”

By 1945, Churchill’s shambolic funds had been a footnote within the story of his premiership as he was remembered by a grateful nation for saving his nation from a international foe. Mr Johnson, who insisted that the general public is extra inquisitive about his dealing with of the pandemic than his wallpaper, might be hoping historical past treats him simply as kindly.

Altering rooms: From dry rot within the Fifties to Might’s John Lewis lamps

Winston Churchill

In 1954, renovation work on Downing Road was a urgent matter. A survey throughout Winston Churchill’s second spell in workplace found that Nos 10, 11 and 12 Downing Road had been prone to partially collapsing on account of dry rot and beetle injury. However Churchill was dismayed on the timeframe. “I’m shocked that the Ministry of Works contemplates two or three years. The Ark didn’t take so lengthy,” he wrote in a doc launched by the Nationwide Archives.

Margaret Thatcher

Celebrated for her humble beginnings as a grocer’s daughter, Margaret Thatcher saved a detailed eye on prices. Authorities papers from 1979, made public in 2011, confirmed that Mrs Thatcher had insisted any furnishing spending was as “economical as doable”. She was mentioned to have paid for her personal ironing board and expressed disbelief at a doc detailing prices that indicated £464 had been spent on changing linen.

Tony Blair

In a break from custom, Tony Blair and his spouse, Cherie, moved to the larger flat at No 11. There adopted an intensive refurbishment, which included the arrival of a mattress reported to have value £3,500 and wallpaper that was priced at £70 a roll. It has been reported that the overall spent by the Blairs through the prime minister’s 10 years in workplace was £285,380, with a highest annual spend of £48,336.

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown was much less extravagant in his refurbishment prices than his predecessor, spending £84,622 throughout his three years in Downing Road. He and his spouse, Sarah, had been mentioned to have saved the kitchen put in by the Blairs they usually by no means exceeded their annual allowance, spending a most of £29,389 in 2009-10 earlier than his resignation.

David Cameron

David Cameron additionally discovered his spending on refurbishments on the centre of a row. He confronted criticism for spending the complete £30,000 funds obtainable to him on extensively renovating the No 11 flat in 2011. The centrepiece of the redesign was the flat’s kitchen, which bought new black granite worktops and a cooker that value £3,400. Figures later confirmed that Mr Cameron had spent £92,900 on his household’s dwelling quarters.

Theresa Might

One of many extra modest spenders in current a long time, Theresa Might used lower than one yr’s allowance on refurbishment throughout her three years in workplace. Mrs Might spent a reported £25,534 on refurbishing the dwelling quarters, the very best yearly spend of which was £19,400 in 2016-17, however she spent nothing in her second yr. A photograph shoot throughout her time in workplace confirmed touches that included a £100 desk lamp from John Lewis.

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