Boris drafts in Queen’s ex-private secretary Lord Geidt as new ministerial sleaze adviser with orders to probe No11 flat refurb funding – but the PM STILL has the final say over whether code was breached
- Lord Geidt has been appointed new independent adviser on ministerial interests
- The peer was private secretary to the Queen for a decade before his latest role
- He has been asked to investigate funding of the Downing Street renovations
Boris Johnson today drafted in the Queen’s former private secretary as his new ministerial sleaze adviser – with his first job being to probe the funding of the No11 flat refurbishment.
Lord Geidt, a crossbencher who held the key role with the monarch for a decade before standing down in 2017, has been appointed as the PM’s independent adviser on ministerial interests.
He has been tasked with ‘ascertaining the facts’ over the Downing Street works and telling Mr Johnson if he needs to make any declarations.
The post has been vacant since the departure of Sir Alex Allan, who left after Mr Johnson overruled the findings of his inquiry into alleged bullying of officials by Home Secretary Priti Patel.
There have been calls for the powers of the adviser to be beefed up, after criticism that they can only launch investigations with the premier’s approval, who also has the final say on action against ministers.
But it emerged this afternoon that Lord Geidt must still ‘raise the issue confidentially with the PM’ if he believes there has been a breach.
And Downing Street stressed that Mr Johnson remains the ‘ultimate arbiter of the code’.
Lord Geidt (left), a crossbencher who was private secretary to the Queen for a decade, has been appointed as the PM’s (right) independent adviser on ministerial interests
Lord Geidt’s immediate task is to finalise a new version of the list of ministerial interests – which is meant to be published twice a year but has not been updated since last July.
Mr Johnson is expected to include some details of the murky financial background in the list when it emerges.
Announcing the appointment today, the Cabinet Office said: The Prime Minister and Lord Geidt have agreed that Lord Geidt will begin by ascertaining the facts surrounding the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat and advise the Prime Minister on any further registration of interests that may be needed.
‘In doing this, Lord Geidt will draw on the work presently being undertaken by the Cabinet Secretary, to coincide with the publication of a new List of Ministers’ Interests.’
At PMQs, Mr Johnson indicated he will make whatever other declarations the adviser recommends.
The premier clashed bitterly with Keir Starmer during the session after the elections watchdog launched a formal probe into whether ‘offences’ have been committed in the Downing Street flat row.
A clearly incensed PM insisted he ‘paid for the refurbishment myself’ and had abided by the ministerial code despite the Electoral Commission saying there were ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ the law might have been broken over the controversial No11 refurbishment.
But as Sir Keir demanded he ‘answer the question’ he repeatedly dodged saying whether £58,000 of Tory funds had originally been used for the works, before he repaid the money.
‘I paid for it,’ he said. ‘I have covered the costs.’
Trying to deflect the attack by saying it was ‘bizarre’ and ‘irrelevant’ of Sir Keir to keep pushing on the issue, Mr Johnson added that he has asked the new independent adviser on ministerial interests to look into whether he needs to make ‘any further declaration’. ‘I look forward to what the Electoral Commission has to say.’
But the Labour leader shot back: ‘The Prime Minister hasn’t answered the question, he knows he hasn’t answered the question, he never answers the question.’
Scrutiny over the overhaul of the flat above No11 where Mr Johnson and fiancee Carrie Symonds and son Wilf live has refused to abate despite the government’s efforts to draw a line under the issue.
Downing Street has declined to deny that Tory funds were used to cover £58,000 of the costs – on top of the £30,000 annual allowance given by the taxpayer.
But the gift last July has not been declared anywhere as yet, and Mr Johnson now insists he has paid the sum himself – with speculation he took out a loan.
No10 has come under fire for saying Conservative funds are not currently being used for a refurbishment, without addressing the issue of whether they were in the past.
In a statement an hour earlier that heaped pressure on the PM, the Electoral Commission said: ‘We have been in contact with the Conservative Party since late March and have conducted an assessment of the information they have provided to us.
Boris Johnson (left) today clashed brutally with Keir Starmer (right) at PMQs today
In fact, the upmarket interior eco designer Lulu Lytle (designs pictured) – whose Soane Britain company was commissioned by Miss Symonds – sells ‘Yellow Gold’ and ‘Old Gold’ wallpaper
‘We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.
‘The investigation will determine whether any transactions relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the Commission and whether such funding was reported as required.
‘We will provide an update once the investigation is complete. We will not be commenting further until that point.’
The commission looks at whether the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 has been broken – although it can refer more serious offences to the police. It is not clear what part of the Act it believes might have been breached, but penalties can range from a fine to up to a year in prison.
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