Boris Johnson is set to be cleared of breaking the ministerial code over his handling of a donation to redecorate his Downing Street flat – but will be “criticised”, it was reported on Thursday.
Lord Geidt, the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser, had in recent weeks re-examined the circumstances behind a £58,000 gift given by a Tory donor for the refurbishment of the Number 11 apartment after new details emerged.
Mr Johnson had previously said he “knew nothing” about the payment until it was reported by the media in February, when Lord Geidt investigated claims that the Prime Minister had contravened the ministerial rules in soliciting and receiving a donation from Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row.
Earlier this month, however, the Electoral Commission revealed WhatsApp messages between Mr Johnson and Lord Brownlow discussing a donation to fund the makeover in November 2020.
While Lord Geidt had formally cleared the Prime Minister of breaking any ministerial rules in of his initial probe, he decided to re-examine the matter in light of these revelations, amid critics’ claims that he had been misled by Mr Johnson.
The Financial Times reported on Thursday that Lord Geidt has, in recent weeks, exchanged a series of letters with Mr Johnson and has been given access to all relevant WhatsApp messages.
The ethics adviser is said to be planning to criticise Mr Johnson in his updated report and has told colleagues he has found the situation “deeply unsatisfactory”. However, he is not expected to find the Prime Minister had broken the ministerial code.
No sanctions, but system to be reformed
The Financial Times reported that instead of sanctions, the peer and the Prime Minister have agreed to reform the system for oversight of ministerial interests. This will involve bolstering the Cabinet Office secretariat responsible for such duties.
It quoted a senior official saying: “Geidt makes clear the situation is a total mess. But at the same time the fundamental conclusion is that the PM did not deceive and did not break the ministerial code.”
A second Whitehall official is quoted commenting on the letters, thought to number around four, exchanged between Mr Johnson and Lord Geidt, which allegedly give a reason why the relevant WhatsApp messages were not disclosed. “There’s enough in those letters to raise eyebrows,” the official said. “The Prime Minister has apologised for some of the circumstances around the initial investigation, which Lord Geidt has accepted.”
An ally of Mr Johnson meanwhile told the newspaper: “Boris wants all the flat stuff to be resolved. But the inquiry could cause him all manner of trouble.”
The Prime Minister has repaid the costs of the flat renovation.
Downing Street declined to comment, while the Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We do not comment on speculation.”
Asked when Lord Geidt’s conclusions will be published, the spokesman said: “The terms of reference set out that the advice the independent advisor provides to the Prime Minister on matters which are referred to him will be published in a timely manner.”
Labour seizes on reports
Labour seized on the reports on Thursday. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said: “After the Electoral Commission ruled that the Conservative Party broke the law on declaring donations, the Prime Minister has made a mockery of the standards the public has a right to expect.
“Lord Geidt should publish all his correspondence with the Prime Minister as a first step towards providing full transparency into how Boris Johnson is explaining away his WhatsApp messages with Tory donors.
“It is embarrassing that when the country needs real leadership, Boris Johnson is busy trying to clear up his own personal mess.”