If you are going to choose a day to publish news that you might like to sweep under the newly fitted carpet, Friday is probably a good day.
Lord Geidt, appointed in April to examine the background to the makeover of the Downing Street apartment where Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, lives with his new wife Carrie and his youngest son, has pronounced that the Prime Minister did not do much wrong in allowing someone else to pick up the tab. The official title given to the former Private Secretary to HM The Queen is “Independent Adviser on Minister’s Interests”, and he has been appointed for a one-off term of five years. His first job was to update the list of ministers’ interests particularly in relation to the Prime Minister.
The Adviser gives advice to the Prime Minister on matters relating to the Ministerial Code, a rule book which ought to be well known to any government minister, but particularly the PM. If there is likely to be any conflict of interest then it is the personal responsibility of a government minister to avoid it.
Quite who did pay for the wallpaper which is said to have cost £800 a roll, is still a little bit of a mystery. It appears that Mr Johnson had obtained legal advice on setting up a trust to pay for such expenses, but that trust is still a proposal and not legally constituted. It probably never will be as, according to Lord Geidt’s report, further advice said that a trust for such expenses would not work well.
Whether or not the final figure for the makeover was £200,000 is also in question, and whether Mr Johnson paid for any of it is also difficult to establish. Mr Johnson was “not aware” of the sums as at October 2020. The report states that the Prime Minister ought to have full knowledge of this in future.
Lord Geidt concluded from the evidence he has examined that the Prime Minister probably deceived benefits from the Conservative Party and Lord Brownlow, who acted “from altruistic and philanthropic motives” in paying for some of the renovations. Lord Geidt also determined that no conflict ensured from the circumstances.
“Under normal circumstances, a Prime Minister might reasonably be expected to be curious about the arrangements, and especially the financial arrangements that led to the refurbishment of his apartment at Downing Street. In the middle of a pandemic, the current Prime Minister simply accepted that the Trust would be capable of satisfactorily resolving the situation without further interrogation. It is the case that the Prime Minister was ill-served when officials did become aware, albeit they were no doubt also managing their own very difficult circumstances. These possible mitigations notwithstanding, however, it cannot be right to assert that the duty attaching to all Ministers, and not least to the Prime Minister to observe the high standards of what is, after all, his Ministerial Code is anything other than absolute.”