Johnson Apologises for Lost WhatsApps as Report Clears Him Over Downing Street Flat Fix-Up

© REUTERS / UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor / Prime Minister's Questions at the parliament in LondonPrime Minister's Questions at the parliament in London
Prime Minister's Questions at the parliament in London - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.01.2022
PM Boris Johnson was cleared of breaking the ministerial code by taking donations from a Conservative Party member of the House of Lords for massive cost over-runs in the refurbishment of his official residence on Downing Street.
Boris Johnson has apologised for the late disclosure of phone texts with the Tory peer and donor who paid to do up the prime minister's official Downing Street flat.
But Johnson's former advisor on ministerial standards Lord Christopher Geidt said the WhatsApp messages did not alter the findings of his 21 May report that the PM had not broken the Ministerial Code of conduct.
"I am sorry that the Office of the Independent Adviser has been put in this position and can only repeat the humble and sincere apology I gave when we discussed this matter earlier today," Johnson wrote in a letter to Geidt on December 21, which was published on Thursday.
Johnson said the exchange of messages between him and Lord David Brownlow had been lost when he changed his mobile phone number — after gossip website Popbitch revealed that it could be found online on an old press release from BoJo's days as a backbench MP.
Johnson's letter was in response to a lengthy missive from Geidt dated December 17, in which the former advisor expressed hi dissatisfaction with the late revelation of the messages.
"The episode shook my confidence precisely because potential and real failures of process occurred in more than one part of the apparatus of government," the peer wrote on December 23.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, removes his disposable face covering worn due to Covid-19, to pose for a photograph as he leaves the BBC in central London on June 6, 2021, after appearing on the BBC political programme The Andrew Marr Show - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.01.2022
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The so-called 'Wallpapergate' affair erupted last year after it emerged that Johnson had spent way over the £30,000 allowance granted to incoming leaders to redecorate the flat on the top floor of 11 Downing Street — the office of the chancellor of the exchequer which is public property.
Johnson hired swanky interior design firm Soane Britain and its boss Lulu Lytle to spruce up the official residence for himself and his pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds. Work started in April 2020, when Johnson was in nearby St Thomas' Hospital with COVID-19. The bill ended up running to £112,549.
The ruling Conservative Party initially claimed that Johnson had paid for the cost overrun himself, but it later emerged that major party donors had been approached and Brownlow had paid £52,000 of the bill.
In the lost WhatsApp messages, which Geidt dubbed the "Missing Exchange", Brownlow reveals that the trust fund set up to channel the donations for the flat was under his sole control.
Around Lunchtime on 29 November 2020, Johnson wrote to Brownlow: "Hi David I am afraid parts of our flat are still a bit of a tip and am keen to allow Lulu Lytle to get on with it. Can I possibly ask her to get in touch with you for approvals? Many thanks and all best Boris".
At 3.44pm that afternoon, Brownlow replied: "Afternoon Prime Minister, I hope you’re both well Sorry for the delay I was out for a walk and didn’t have my ‘work’ phone with me. Of course, get Lulu to call me and we’ll get it sorted ASAP!"
Half an hour later the peer added: "I should have said, as the Trust isn’t set up yet (will be in January) approval is a doddle as it’s only me and I know where the £ will come from, so as soon as Lulu calls we can crack on - David".
A report by the Electoral Commission in December 2021 criticised the Tory party and fined it £17,800 for failing to declare the payments as donations.
The opposition have repeatedly pressed the government and Geidt on the matter, seeking to make political capital out of that and other scandals.
Prime ministers once inhabited a similar apartment at Number 10, the PM's residence. But when former Labour leader Tony Blair took power in 1997 and noticed that the chancellor's flat was more spacious than his, he grabbed it for himself. Blair's successors, including his unfortunate chancellor Gordon Brown, have lived at No. 11 since.
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