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)
It is thought the Cabinet Office forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle
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.
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.
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.
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.