‘Sleaze’ claims, Dominic Cummings feud and Downing St refurb – what are the mounting problems facing Boris Johnson?

Boris Johnson is facing growing claims of “sleaze” from his political opponents – as well as becoming engaged in a bitter briefing war with his former chief aide.

Here’s a look at where the prime minister‘s problems are mounting:

Downing Street flat refurbishment

Mr Johnson is under pressure to explain how and when the costs were met for the refurbishment of his private flat above 11 Downing Street.

The prime minister and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, are said to have employed eco interior designer Lulu Lytle to oversee an overhaul of the flat in order to replace what has been termed Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare”.

However, questions are being asked about how the overhaul has been funded.

According to Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, the prime minister had devised a plan to have donors “secretly pay for the renovation”.

In leaked emails seen by the Daily Mail, Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row, a Tory donor, is claimed to have paid £58,000 to the Conservative Party to “cover payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed ‘Downing Street Trust'”.

The Electoral Commission are currently holding “discussions” with the Conservative Party to establish whether any sums relating to the refurbishment of the Number 11 flat should have been declared.

Mr Johnson is now said to have stumped up the money himself.

Every prime minister receives an annual allowance of up to £30,000 a year of taxpayers’ money to contribute towards “the costs associated with maintaining and furnishing of the residency within the Downing Street estate”.

According to a Cabinet Office statement given to parliament last week, figures on this year’s spend are not yet available, but they said “works have taken place by long-standing Downing Street contractors on painting, sanding and floorboards”.

The statement added: “Any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the prime minister personally.”

The Cabinet Office acknowledged the government has been “considering the merits of whether works on parts or all of the Downing Street estate could be funded by a trust” but said the matter was “ongoing”.

They have promised full details of the Downing Street works in their annual report.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “At all times, the government and ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law.”

‘Chatty rat’ inquiry

Another explosive claim made by Mr Cummings is that the prime minister suggested halting a Downing Street leak inquiry as it might have implicated a friend of Ms Symonds.

In a 1,000-word blogpost, Mr Cummings alleged the prime minister had proposed an investigation into who leaked details of November’s national lockdown in England could be stopped.

This was after Mr Johnson was told government adviser Henry Newman might be implicated, according to Mr Cummings.

Mr Newman is said to be close to Ms Symonds, who once described him as one of her “favourite people”.

The so-called “chatty rat” leak inquiry was launched last October – and is still ongoing – after briefings to the media about pending new COVID restrictions led Mr Johnson to announce the November lockdown earlier than planned.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister has never interfered in a government leak inquiry.”

Dyson text messages

The prime minister faced a grilling by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the House of Commons last week after the leak of text messages between Mr Johnson and billionaire Sir James Dyson.

In the messages, it emerged the prime minister had promised to “fix” an issue over the tax status of Sir James’s employees.

The conversations took place last March in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic after the government asked companies, including Dyson, to help supply ventilators.

After the messages were made public, the prime minister said he would make “absolutely no apology at all” for “shifting heaven and earth” to secure ventilators for the UK.

But Sir Keir said the issue demonstrates “sleaze” and “cronyism” within Mr Johnson’s government.

Number 10 has since ordered a Cabinet Office investigation into how the messages became public.

And Number 10 “sources” were also quoted in newspapers as blaming Mr Cummings for leaks about the prime minister’s private conversations.

Mr Cummings has subsequently denied the “false accusations” and said he is happy for officials to search his phone.

Greensill lobbying row

Mr Johnson is also being forced to deal with the fallout of the Greensill Capital lobbying row.

There are now eight inquiries at Westminster into the activities of the now-collapsed finance firm, following the revelation that former prime minister David Cameron lobbied serving government ministers and officials on behalf of the business.

Both the Treasury and Bank of England have been forced to divulge details of their contacts with Mr Cameron, while the row has also led to wider scrutiny about the role of Greensill Capital in government supply chain finance schemes and how lobbyists interact with ministers.

Among the inquiries is Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s demand for civil servants to urgently disclose any conflicts of interest.

It follows the revelation that a senior official was previously allowed to advise Greensill Capital while still working for the civil service.

They later went on to become a director of the firm.

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