Boris Johnson under siege after he denies ‘bodies’ remark but BBC and ITV confirm it, while it’s revealed Tory Party paid £58,000 bill for his No10 flat makeover last July AND the PM texted Dominic Cummings to CLEAR him over ‘chatty rat’ claims
- Fresh sources have come out and confirmed claims that the PM made crass comment on lockdown deaths
- Boris Johnson is also facing further questions over the £58,000 redecoration of his Downing Street flat
- Also revealed he texted Dominic Cummings last year to exonerate him over notorious ‘chatty rat’ leak inquiry
Boris Johnson was under siege last night as questions mounted over his personal conduct in a string of controversies.
Fresh sources came forward to confirm he had made a crass comment about lockdown deaths – even as he tried to deny it.
In a second blow, he was facing further questions about the lavish redecoration of his flat after it emerged that the Conservative Party settled a £58,000 bill last summer.
Whitehall sources suggested the Prime Minister, who has now paid the bill himself, may be forced to formally declare the loan over the coming days.
Boris Johnson was under siege last night as questions mounted over his personal conduct in a string of controversies
In the Commons Michael Gove said it was ‘incredible’ to suggest the Prime Minister would have used such language and fellow minister Nadine Dorries branded it a ‘lie’
How the scandal unfolded
July 2019: Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, pictured, move into the four-bedroom flat. Miss Symonds is reportedly keen to get rid of the ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’.
July 2020: The Conservative Party pays £58,000 to the Cabinet Office for the cost of refurbishing the flat.
October 2020: Tory donor Lord Brownlow emails party chairman Ben Elliot and head of fundraising Mike Chattey, saying he has given £58,000 to cover payments ‘the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed “Downing Street Trust”’. Lord Brownlow says he chairs the trust, which reportedly planned to preserve the famous street’s heritage and decor.
March 6, 2021: The Daily Mail reveals that Mr Johnson wanted Tory donors to contribute to the cost of redecorating the flat, and that the party tried to launch a cover-up. No 10 insists there has been no wrongdoing.
March 20, 2021: The Electoral Commission quizzes Tory chiefs over the funding of the makeover and has asked Mr Elliot to explain whether the Conservative Party complied with laws on political donations.
April 21, 2021: The Mail publishes emails sent by Lord Brownlow to Mr Elliot.
April 22, 2021: It emerges that Whitehall’s most senior mandarin, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, is investigating how the refurbishment of Mr Johnson’s flat was paid for.
April 23, 2021: The Cabinet Office announces that beyond basic taxpayer-funded work on the flat any wider refurbishment costs ‘have been met by the PM personally’. No 10 does not give details of how Mr Johnson paid the £58,000.
Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings says he warned the PM in 2020 he could be breaking the law if he asked Tory donors to pay for the refurbishment, calling proposal ‘unethical, foolish and possible illegal’.
April 26, 2021: Mr Case tells MPs the idea of setting up a trust to fund the upkeep of Downing Street has been looked into but it could not pay for refurbishments to the Prime Minister’s flat.
In a further setback it was revealed that he had texted Dominic Cummings last year to exonerate him over the notorious ‘chatty rat’ leak inquiry – undermining Downing Street’s claims that the former aide was behind a string of damaging disclosures.
Ministers tried to play down yesterday’s explosive revelation in the Daily Mail that Mr Johnson had allegedly raged at officials that he would rather see ‘bodies pile high in their thousands’ than order a third lockdown.
But the Mail’s story was confirmed by both the BBC and ITV, citing their own sources. In a terse denial yesterday, Mr Johnson said he had not uttered the words. Asked if he made the comments, Mr Johnson told reporters in Wrexham: ‘No, but I think the important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a Government is to make sure that the lockdowns work.’
In the Commons Michael Gove said it was ‘incredible’ to suggest the Prime Minister would have used such language and fellow minister Nadine Dorries branded it a ‘lie’.
But ITV political editor Robert Peston said two eyewitnesses, neither of whom had spoken to the Mail, confirmed that Mr Johnson had made the outburst following a tense meeting to agree the second lockdown in October last year.
News of the Covid clampdown was leaked to the Mail last October just hours after the decision was taken. The leak infuriated the PM who told the Cabinet Office to launch an investigation to hunt down the so-called ‘chatty rat’ who leaked it.
Last week, Mr Johnson ordered an extraordinary briefing war against Mr Cummings, in which his former aide was accused of being behind the leak.
The former Vote Leave chief responded with an explosive 1,100-word statement in which he said both the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case had exonerated him of involvement. Mr Case did not dispute this claim yesterday. But he denied Mr Cummings’s allegation that Mr Johnson had tried to block the investigation after learning that a close friend of his fiancée Carrie Symonds had been implicated.
He told MPs it was ‘probable’ that investigators would never be able to determine who leaked the story, despite bringing in MI5 to help track the mobile phone data of senior ministers and officials.
Mr Case was earlier left squirming as he tried to duck questions from MPs over who paid for the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat in 11 Downing Street.
Britain’s most senior civil servant refused to say whether political donations had been accepted to help settle the bill for the redecoration overseen by eco-designer Lulu Lytle last year.
He confirmed revelations in the Mail that Mr Johnson had sought to establish a new charitable trust overseen by Tory donor Lord Brownlow to pay for the upkeep of the flat. But he said it was now clear that a charitable trust could not be used to renovate private areas of No 10, leaving Mr Johnson to pick up the bill.
Mr Case claimed he could not comment further because he was now leading a new review of the issue for the Prime Minister – prompting former shadow chancellor John McDonnell to describe his evidence as a ‘badly scripted version of Yes, Minister’.
In emails revealed by the Mail last week Lord Brownlow said he had given the Conservative Party £58,000 to cover payments ‘the party has already made’.
The Cabinet Office told Parliament on Friday that Mr Johnson had now settled the bill himself. A senior Tory told the Mail he had had to take out a personal loan to cover it.
Whitehall sources last night suggested that the Prime Minister would declare the financial support he received in the next register of ministerial interests, which could come as soon as this week.
But Labour yesterday stepped up calls for a full inquiry by the Electoral Commission. Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was time for ‘a full and transparent investigation into everything going on’ in No 10.
The allegations of sleaze and cronyism may now be having an impact, with an Ipsos Mori poll for the London Evening Standard showing Tory support has fallen by five points in a month. The poll put them on 40 per cent, three points in front of Labour.
In a further setback it was revealed that he had texted Dominic Cummings last year to exonerate him over the notorious ‘chatty rat’ leak inquiry – undermining Downing Street’s claims that the former aide was behind a string of damaging disclosures
In a second blow, he was facing further questions about the lavish redecoration of his flat after it emerged that the Conservative Party settled a £58,000 bill last summer. Whitehall sources suggested the Prime Minister, who has now paid the bill himself, may be forced to formally declare the loan over the coming days. Pictured: A design by Lulu Lytle
Wallpapergate: Rules Boris may have breached
ANALYSIS by Daniel Martin for the Daily Mail
The Prime Minister has faced weeks of controversy over the refurbishment of his flat, consistently denying any wrongdoing. Here we look at the rules that may have been broken.
POTENTIAL BREACH OF MINISTERIAL CODE
It has been reported that Conservative Central Office solicited a £58,000 donation from Tory donor Lord Brownlow to cover the cost of the Downing Street refurbishment via a trust fund which, at the time, had not yet been set up.
This could potentially be in breach of the ministerial code as getting a Tory donor to pay for the refurbishment may be seen as a potential conflict of interest for the PM.
The code – which Boris Johnson oversees – states that ministers must ‘scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest between their ministerial position and their private financial interests’.
It could be argued that using a political donation to pay for private matters could influence policy decisions.
POTENTIAL BREACH OF ELECTORAL COMMISSION RULES
If it emerges that the Conservative Party solicited the donation for the flat but planned to record it with the Electoral Commission as a political donation, that could also fall foul of the rules.
Donations are meant to be for party matters such as fighting elections, not funding decorating. In addition, all donations must be made on a quarterly basis to the commission.
Leaked emails show Lord Brownlow offered to make a £58,000 donation last October, but it appears that this was not registered with the commission in January as part of the Tories’ quarterly declaration.
WHAT IF THE TORIES SAY THE MONEY WAS A LOAN, NOT A DONATION?
Downing Street insists the £58,000 has now been paid out of Mr Johnson’s own pocket.
But it is now believed No 10 is preparing to say the money was actually a loan to the PM from the Tory party after it emerged yesterday that Conservative HQ initially settled the bill for the work with the Cabinet Office last year.
Critics are likely to say that even if claimed as a loan, it is a donation under another guise.
PM: No, I didn’t make ‘bodies’ remark. BBC & ITV: But we have sources who say the Mail story is right
By Daniel Martin Policy Editor for the Daily Mail
The political editors of the BBC and ITV yesterday corroborated Boris Johnson’s alleged remarks over the coronavirus death toll.
The Mail had reported that after reluctantly agreeing to a second national lockdown, the Prime Minister had apparently said he would rather see ‘the bodies pile high in their thousands’ than order a third round of curbs.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, joined ministers taking to the airwaves yesterday to insist the reports were untrue.
Mr Johnson himself went before TV cameras to issue a flat denial, saying the claims were ‘total, total rubbish’.
The political editors of the BBC and ITV yesterday corroborated Boris Johnson’s (pictured) alleged remarks over the coronavirus death toll
But the two respected political editors of the BBC and ITV – Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston – both reported yesterday afternoon that they had heard the same allegations of Mr Johnson’s comments from their own sources.
Later, in the Commons, Michael Gove declined to completely reject the reports, saying only that it was ‘incredible’ to suggest that the Prime Minister could have said such a thing. The Cabinet Office Minister insisted he was not in the meeting room when the alleged comment was made.
It is understood, however, that the remark was made in the Prime Minister’s study.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer yesterday said he was ‘astonished’ by the reports.
He added: ‘Everybody would be deeply concerned, not least all those families who have lost someone in the pandemic.’
In the afternoon, Mr Gove (pictured) told MPs he ‘never heard language of that kind’ in the meeting where Mr Johnson ordered the second shutdown in England. He also said: ‘The idea that he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind’
Sources told the Mail that Mr Johnson resisted a second lockdown last October even as Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Mr Gove argued it was necessary. When he finally agreed to new restrictions after Mr Gove warned him that soldiers would otherwise have to be deployed to protect overwhelmed hospitals, he is alleged to have said: ‘No more f***ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands.’
Asked yesterday if he made the comments, Mr Johnson told reporters in Wrexham: ‘Total, total rubbish.
‘What I certainly think is that this country has done an amazing job with the lockdowns. And they’ve been very difficult. And they’ve been very tough for people. And there’s no question about that.’
He insisted the ‘stuff that people are talking about’ in Westminster were not issues being raised on the doorstep ahead of the May 6 elections. The Prime Minister added: ‘Nobody wants to go into a lockdown but they’ve helped us. The discipline the public has shown has helped us to get the numbers of cases down very considerably.’
However, the Mail’s report was later backed up by the BBC, which said it had been told so by sources familiar with the conversation.
Miss Kuenssberg said that at the time, Mr Johnson was reported to have had big concerns about the implications of another lockdown on the economy and non-Covid related health issues.
But the two respected political editors of the BBC and ITV – Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston – both reported yesterday afternoon that they had heard the same allegations of Mr Johnson’s comments from their own sources
‘This does take us back to that moment and back to the very serious claims made by some people who were involved in the decision making – including some ministers – that the hesitancy around the second lockdown did cost lives,’ she said.
Mr Peston also said that he was told Mr Johnson shouted the phrase in his study after he agreed to the second lockdown ‘in a rage’. He said he was told that the doors to the Cabinet room and outer office were allegedly open, meaning that a number of people heard. Yesterday morning, Mr Wallace said the ‘bodies’ allegation was ‘ludicrous’ and that anonymous briefing had reached ‘the comedy chapter now of these gossip stories’.
‘The Prime Minister has been utterly focused on delivering, alongside Cabinet colleagues, the response to Covid,’ he said.
In the afternoon, Mr Gove told MPs he ‘never heard language of that kind’ in the meeting where Mr Johnson ordered the second shutdown in England. ‘I was in the meeting that afternoon, with the Prime Minister and other ministers, as we looked at what was happening with the virus and with the pandemic,’ he said. ‘We were dealing with one of the most serious decisions that this Prime Minister and any government have had to face. People have been pointing out, quite rightly, that tens of thousands of people were dying.
‘The Prime Minister made a decision in that meeting to trigger a second lockdown. He made a subsequent decision to trigger a third lockdown. This is a Prime Minister who was in hospital himself, in intensive care.
‘The idea that he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind.’
Mr Gove added: ‘These decisions are never easy, but the Government made the decision, and the Prime Minister made the decision, to have a second and third lockdown, and I think we can see the evidence of the leadership that he showed.’
Nadine Dorries, the mental health minister, said the quote claim was a lie – ‘not one named source or substantiated fact’. She tweeted that it was ‘vexatious coordinated gossip given in order to negatively influence the outcome’ of the May elections.
Mr Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson said the Prime Minister ‘may well have’ made the ‘tasteless’ remark about allowing dead bodies to pile up but suggested the row would not damage him.
Mr Gimson told Sky News: ‘In some ways it will strengthen his reputation as a man who talks as a man in the pub would, not in the prissy way that some members of the political class think one should always talk about terrible things like the pandemic.’
Last night sources close to Mr Gove said he was very clear the PM did not say the alleged remark.
Tory HQ paid flat bill: Money trail gets murkier as party says it stumped up £58,000 in July
By Simon Walters and Jason Groves for the Daily Mail
Boris Johnson’s claim to have paid for the lavish makeover of his Downing Street flat faced fresh scrutiny last night after it was confirmed Tory HQ paid the £58,000 bill nine months ago.
Conservative chiefs are understood to have secretly approved the payment to the Cabinet Office in July.
The payment, confirmed to the Mail yesterday by Cabinet Office sources, undermines the PM’s insistence that he paid the bill himself.
Downing Street has refused to deny reports that Mr Johnson secured a loan from a Tory donor – believed to be financier Lord Brownlow – to pay for the decor.
Whitehall sources last night told the Mail that Mr Johnson may now be forced to publicly declare exactly how the costly refurbishment was funded.
Boris Johnson, pictured with fiancee Carrie Symonds, may have to declare how the costly refurb was paid for
One source said further details were likely to be revealed in an updated register of ministerial interests, which could be released as early as this week.
But Mr Johnson first has to appoint a new adviser on ministerial standards – a post that has been vacant since Sir Alex Allen resigned in November in protest at the PM’s refusal to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel over bullying allegations.
The appointment was due to be announced last week but the preferred candidate is said to be ‘wobbling’ about whether to accept the post.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case yesterday confirmed Mr Johnson had wanted to set up a charitable trust more than 12 months ago to pay for the flat’s refit. But he said it was now clear that it would be illegal for a charitable trust to pay for the upkeep of private quarters.
He refused to say whether political donations had been accepted to help fund the project.
Mr Johnson also ducked the question yesterday, telling reporters: ‘If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.’
There is a labyrinthine money trail used for the cost of the £58,000 renovations (pictured)
The Cabinet Office informed parliament on Friday that the PM has now paid the bill for his renovations. A senior Tory told the Mail he had been forced to take out a loan to settle the bill.
Mr Johnson’s sister Rachel yesterday defended the overhaul of the ‘light and airy’ flat shared by the PM and his fiancee Carrie Symonds. ‘They have a baby about to turn one and maybe it needed some spiffing up,’ she said.
The latest disclosures add another layer to the labyrinthine money trail used to meet the cost of the refurbishment.
It is thought that the Cabinet Office, which oversees building work in Downing Street, forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle.
This newspaper revealed this month that Lord Brownlow paid the Tory Party £58,000 as a ‘donation’ to cover the sum it had paid for the refit. If, as Downing Street now says, Mr Johnson has paid the bill, there would appear to be two possible ways of doing so.
Either Lord Brownlow’s ‘donation’ to Tory HQ in October has been turned into a ‘loan’ to the PM.
Or Mr Johnson has reimbursed £58,000 to Party funds to cover the payment Lord Brownlow made to it in October, which in turn was to cover the payment made last July to the Cabinet Office by Tory HQ.
If, as some insiders are speculating, Lord Brownlow’s ‘donation’ has become a ‘loan’ to Mr Johnson, the Party will face calls to reveal who authorised this.
It is thought the Cabinet Office forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle
Critics may argue that in such hypothetical circumstances, the ‘loan’ is tantamount to being a Tory ‘donation’ in a different guise. The Electoral Commission watchdog is still in talks with the Tory Party to establish if it complied with strict rules on the use of party funds and donations.
When the Mail first revealed the scandal, Mr Johnson’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton said: ‘Conservative Party funds are not being used to pay for any refurbishment of the Downing Street estate.’
Asked whether donors had been encouraged to pay for the refurbishment, Miss Stratton said any donations would be declared through the Electoral Commission, the House of Commons’ register of members’ interests, or in ministerial transparency declarations. No such declarations have yet been made.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: ‘All reportable donations to the Conservative Party are correctly declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law.
‘Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in Government transparency returns.’
Lord Brownlow did not respond to a request for comment.
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