Saturday, June 19, 2021

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PMQs didn’t help much – these key unanswered questions remain over Boris Johnson’s flat refurb

At Prime Minister’s Questions, MPs learnt from Boris Johnson about Tory housing policy, council tax plans, that the Labour opposition voted against his Brexit deal (they didn’t), and the amounts of public money previous Labour prime ministers spent on flat refurbishments.

But other than a denial that rules or laws have been broken in connection with his own Downing Street refurbishment, they did not learn answers to the key questions over the funding of his flat, as the prime minister repeatedly sidestepped Sir Keir Starmer‘s interrogation.

As the Electoral Commission begins an investigation that could result in criminal sanctions, here are some of the unanswered questions.

• Is it true that Mr Johnson and Carrie Symonds initially wanted the taxpayer to foot the bill, ending in dispute with the then ethics chief Helen MacNamara, who left months after to go to a private sector job? The PM is making his decision not to use taxpayer cash a big part of his defence.

• Is the £58,000 the ceiling of the refurbishment spending? Was there one contractor or more?

• When the Cabinet Office paid the initial £58,000 bill "by early June" for the refurbishment, did it charge interest and should it have been declared in any registers? Did they write a letter saying the money would have to be repaid, and to whom?

• Who at CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) signed off the decision to pay back the Cabinet Office, and when? Is it true CCHQ was cutting costs? Should this transaction have been recorded as a loan to Mr Johnson?

• Why did construction equipment manufacturer JCB founder Lord Bamford turn down the suggestion he pay the £58,000 directly?

• What happened to the £58,000 Lord Brownlow says he sent to fund the Number 10 trust revealed in a note leaked to the Daily Mail?

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• Will Ben Elliot and Amanda Milling – CCHQ chairmen – be investigated for CCHQ’s role, too?

• When did Mr Johnson discover that a charitable trust could not cover the private areas of Downing Street, as revealed by Simon Case on Monday?

• Who advised Mr Johnson that accepting a donation to overhaul the flat was acceptable, when the ministerial code says this: "It is a well-established and recognised rule that no Minister should accept gifts, hospitality or services from anyone which would, or might appear to, place him or her under an obligation….. The same principle applies if gifts etc are offered to a member of their family… Gifts of a higher value should be handed over to the department for disposal unless the recipient wishes to purchase the gift abated by £140. If a Minister wishes to retain a gift he or she will be liable for any tax it may attract."

• Why hasn’t anything been published when the ministerial code says: "Departments will publish, on a quarterly basis, details of gifts received and given by Ministers valued at more than £140."

• Why is Mr Case said to have gone to the PM to tell him to pay up only hours after Sky News revealed it would be publishing a story about the cabinet secretary’s personal role in the flat affair?



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