Angela Rayner has accused the prime minister of “corruption, plain and simple” and said Boris Johnson has “questions to answer” over allegations of cash-for-access to ministers relating to the Downing Street flat refurbishment.
The latest allegations of Tory sleaze surround reports that the Conservative peer who helped pay for the costs of decorating the Downing Street flat, Lord David Brownlow, had a meeting with the culture secretary to discuss his plan for a “great exhibition” within weeks of the donation.
Johnson’s deputy spokesman denied the donation was in any way related to the PM’s agreement to look at Brownlow’s idea for a second Great Exhibition.
However, Rayner said: “It appears that Lord Brownlow had access to the Prime Minister and Culture Secretary because he was paying for his luxury flat renovations.
“It is pretty unbelievable that Boris Johnson didn’t know who was paying for his luxury flat renovations.
“If so, that is corruption plain and simple. No one should be able to buy access or exchange wallpaper for festivals. Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer.”
Johnson’s ‘humble and sincere apology’ over missing Whatsapp messages
Johnson has been battling what had been the latest twist in the Downing Street flat decoration saga following criticism from his ethics adviser for acting “unwisely”. However, Lord Christopher Geidt cleared the prime minister of being deliberately misleading in the investigation into how the refurbishment was funded.
Johnson offered a “humble and sincere apology” to Geidt and acknowledged he had failed to disclose crucial messages between him and Brownlow.
Geidt’s initial report was published in May and found Johnson had not broken the ministerial code over donor payments, stating the PM said he did not know about the payments until “immediately prior” to media reports in February 2021.
A report published in December by the Electoral Commission – an independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK – found Johnson had been in contact with Conservative peer Lord David Brownlow, the donor who paid £58,000 towards the refurbishments.
The Financial Times reports Johnson “is unlikely to have been cleared of breaking ethics rules…had investigators been fully aware of his exchanges” with Brownlow, adding that Geidt sent three letters to the Cabinet Office in December that “expressed his displeasure that not all information had been initially made available to him.”
PM ‘can only repeat the humble and sincere apology’
Had he been aware of the Whatsapp messages between Johnson and Brownlow, Geidt stated: “I doubt whether I would have concluded without qualification”.
In his reply, Johnson wrote: “I am sorry that the Office of 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 [December 21].”
The prime minister explained he did not have access to the messages having changed his mobile phone when it was revealed his number had been in the public domain for 15 years, stating: “You appreciate the security issues faced at the time meant that I did not have access to my previous device and did not recall the message exchange.”
In what the Guardian calls “another thinly veiled furious letter to Johnson sent on 23 December”, Geidt wrote: “The episode shook my confidence precisely because potential and real failures of process occurred in more than one part of the apparatus of government.”
PM rebukes anti-vaxxers spouting ‘complete mumbo-jumbo’
Elsewhere, Johnson hit out at anti-vaxxers spouting “mumbo-jumbo” on social media and intensifying the pressures faced by the NHS.
“I want to say to the antivax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo-jumbo on social media, they are completely wrong, and you haven’t heard me say that before,” Johnson told reporters at a vaccination centre in Northampton.
The PM said “we’re going to keep a voluntary approach” to vaccinations while “other European countries are going for coercion.”
Johnson rebuked the “people out there spouting complete nonsense about the vaccination” while the pressure on the NHS mounts during the pandemic. “They [anti-vaxxers] are completely wrong and it’s time that I and the government call them out on what they’re doing. The stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo-jumbo.”