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Downing Street has refused to reveal any fresh details about the funding of Boris Johnson’s flat renovation, stonewalling questions on the escalating controversy.
No 10 repeated that “Conservative Party funds are not being used” for works on the Prime Minister’s living quarters, but eyebrows were raised on Tuesday over the use of the present tense.
In a carefully-worded statement, a Downing Street spokesman said that the costs of any work “this year”, beyond the £30,000 tax-payer funded allowance for refits, have been “met by the Prime Minister personally”.
Reports emerged on Monday night that the Conservative Party made a payment to the Cabinet Office to fund the refurbishment of the flat last year, which Mr Johnson was now repaying to the party.
Asked on Tuesday whether Mr Johnson had initially accepted a loan from the Conservatives, his spokesman said: “If there’s anything to be said, any declaration to be made, that will be set out in due course in the normal manner.”
Members of the Conservative Party board have been kept in the dark about the issue, despite newspaper claims of party involvement being aired publicly more than a month ago.
The Telegraph understands the board has not met for three months. A meeting in March was unexpectedly cancelled, meaning the last meeting was on Jan 25.
'None of us knows what happened'
One Conservative board member told The Telegraph about the funding of the flat refit: “None of us knows what happened. The concern that all of us have is how was this paid for?”.
Another said they had heard “nothing” about the alleged payments and that it had not been discussed at meetings at which they were present.
Following the disclosure that Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, last year looked at setting up a trust to support renovations of the Downing Street estate, Sky News reported that former Labour chancellor Lord Darling of Roulanish had been approached to help create the putative trust – but declined.
An update to the MPs’ register of interests, which is released every two to four weeks, was published on Tuesday but contained no new entries for Mr Johnson.
The rules require members to record any change to their registrable interests, which include benefits that could be viewed as linked to their political activities – including “loans and credit arrangements”, within 28 days.
PM risks new inquiry
If the Prime Minister is found to have breached the disclosure rules around a loan for his flat, it will trigger a new inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
Any formal ruling of a breach could see the Committee on Standards, which is composed of MPs and lay members, order Mr Johnson to apologise to the Commons and attend training.
The committee also has the power to recommend an MP be suspended from Parliament, but the proposal must be put to a vote of the Commons, which would be unlikely to pass given Mr Johnson’s 80 seat majority.
A probe into who paid for his £15,000 holiday on the private island of Mustique last January was also launched by the Commissioner last year, after the businessman named as the donor in kind by Mr Johnson contradicted the claim, saying he did not own the villa.
Downing Street and the Commissioner declined to comment on the progress of this inquiry.
Mr Johnson had to apologise to MPs in 2018 for the late registration of nine payments – including for his Telegraph column and book royalties. He has also been late previously in registering his interests in two separate properties.
It emerged on Tuesday that six in 10 Britons (59 per cent) regard him as “untrustworthy”, while only four in 10 Britons (41 per cent) felt the same way about Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, according to a poll by Ipsos Mori for the Evening Standard.
On Tuesday night the Prime Minister’s former aide Lord Udny-Lister, known in Westminster as Eddie Lister, spoke out for the first time about his decision to quit No 10.
He insisted he did not depart due to alleged conflicts of interest, telling Politico that he informed Mr Johnson three months ago of his intention to leave.
Cummings 'not prepared to be fall guy'
Meanwhile another former aide to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, is understood to have warned friends in recent days that he is “not prepared to be the fall guy anymore” for mistakes in the Government's Covid strategy.
The former adviser is said by allies to be frustrated that he has been portrayed as having supported an early proposal to allow vast swathes of the population to become infected with the virus.
They claim he is preparing to make fresh disclosures about the Government’s handling of the pandemic, which are likely to damage the Prime Minister, when he appears before MPs on the Commons health select committee on May 26.
One figure, who worked closely with the former aide in government, said: “His loyalty is not to the PM. His loyalty is to the country.”
The source insisted that Mr Cummings was one of the leading advocates for a lockdown inside No 10, but had been wrongly characterised as opposing it in media reports.
“People were outside his house screaming blue murder because of reports he was against lockdown and for herd immunity,” the source said.
It was an explosive claim first made by The Sunday Times in March last year, which reported that Mr Cummings “became convinced that Britain would be better able to resist a lethal second wave” of Covid-19 if up to 80 per cent of the public contracted the disease and the UK developed herd immunity.
The newspaper added: “At a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings outlined the Government’s strategy. Those present say it was ‘herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad’.”
Sources in Downing Street were quoted at the time as dismissing the claim as “total b***cks”, but the narrative took hold in many quarters.
Mr Cummings’ incendiary attack on the Prime Minister in a 1,000-word blog post last Friday, in which he said Mr Johnson was “unethical” and lacking in both competence and integrity, has left some of his Tory friends in an awkward position with split loyalties.
Former aide 'hurt and let down'
Some allies have privately expressed hopes that the row will fizzle out ahead of his appearance before MPs next month.
One source said they hoped the “personal nature” of the dispute would have “drained away”, and insisted that while Mr Cummings did feel “hurt and let down” by Mr Johnson, he did not have an “axe to grind”.
They added that Mr Cummings’ main intention was to highlight the failings of Whitehall decision-making during the pandemic and how “dysfunctional” it was in responding to the crisis, rather than engaging in a “point scoring war” against Mr Johnson and other ministers.
However, they warned that the former Downing Street adviser had no reservations about telling the truth, “even if it appears rather unedifying”, meaning it was inevitable that individuals would get caught up in the “fire fight”.
The Telegraph attempted to reach Mr Cummings for comment.