Ministers and Cabinet Secretary face grilling over Downing Street flat row

Ministers and the Cabinet Secretary face a grilling today over claims Boris Johnson tried to get Tory donors to fund a £60,000 Downing Street flat renovation.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will appear before MPs following a string of explosive allegations made by Dominic Cummings. 

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is also set to answer an urgent question in the Commons as Labour seeks to capitalise on the meltdown.  

Mr Cummings has accused the PM of wanting donors to ‘secretly pay for the renovation’ of his official residence, in a move the former No10 aide branded ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal’.

Downing Street insists the premier funded the work himself in the end, and all ministerial and electoral rules have been followed.

Speaking to reporters in Wrexham, Mr Johnson did not deny discussing using donations to fund the refurbishment.

He said: ‘If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will, of course, be made in due course.’ 

Asked about the row during interviews this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Mr Johnson had paid ‘out of his own pocket’ for the Downing Street upgrade.

Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Do I think the Prime Minister is sleazy? No, I don’t.

Britain’s top civil servant will be quizzed over the lavish refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat today amid claims that the Prime Minister has had to take out a personal loan to pay for it

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is also set to answer an urgent question in the Commons as Labour seeks to capitalise on the meltdown

Simon Case

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove (left) is also set to answer an urgent question in the Commons as Labour seeks to capitalise on the meltdown. Simon Case (right) will be appearing before a powerful committee of MPs

‘Do I think the Prime Minister is an absolutely first-class leader who has led this country in a pandemic?

‘Let’s not forget, while we are getting into Oscar-type gossip columns – there is an awful lot of gossip going around.

‘He paid out of his own money to refurbish the flat. He paid for his flat.’

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has granted an urgent question laid by Labour, with Mr Gove understood to be planning to respond.

Appearing before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mr Case is expected to deny claims that he cleared Mr Cummings over involvement in the ‘chatty rat’ leak last autumn about the impending second lockdown.

A government source said last night the inquiry, conducted with the assistance of MI5, was ongoing, adding: ‘It has neither found anyone responsible, nor ruled anyone out.’ 

But Mr Case is also expected to face detailed questions about the refurbishment of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street used by Mr Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds.

Adding to the controversy, one senior Tory told the Mail last night: ‘Boris had to take out a personal loan to cover the cost. You have to be pretty wealthy to have £60,000 lying around. He has just emerged from an expensive divorce.’

One former minister told MailOnline of the latest claims: ‘This needs to stop because it is damaging both sides. 

‘Cummings may think that now that he is no longer in government he has less to lose, but he needs to remember that he spent a lot of time in senior positions, and without doubt there will be things that he will not want to leaked out.

‘He may feel that he has nothing to lose, but he is wrong.’

‘It is also time for Carrie Symonds to back off, because it is clear in all of this that her name comes up regularly in the issues that are causing the PM difficulty – whether it is appointments, personnel, or having the flat redecorated.’  

The Electoral Commission has said it is still seeking answers from Tory chiefs about whether party funds or donations were used.

Labour has written to the commission calling for a full investigation. 

On Friday, Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson wanted ‘donors to secretly pay for the renovation’ – which he said was ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules’.

The Mail had revealed that Mr Johnson asked Tory donors to help with the cost of the makeover which is said to run to six figures. 

On Friday, the Cabinet Office said the cost of ‘painting, sanding and floorboards’ had been paid from a £30,000 maintenance allowance, but ‘any costs of wider refurbishment have been met by the Prime Minister personally’. 

Asked about the row during interviews this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Mr Johnson had paid 'out of his own pocket' for the Downing Street upgrade

Asked about the row during interviews this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Mr Johnson had paid ‘out of his own pocket’ for the Downing Street upgrade

Mr Cummings has accused the PM (pictured together in 2019) of wanting donors to 'secretly pay for the renovation' of his official residence

Mr Cummings has accused the PM (pictured together in 2019) of wanting donors to ‘secretly pay for the renovation’ of his official residence

Labour’s Kate Green said there were ‘very troubling allegations’ surrounding the work at the Number 11 flat.

The shadow education secretary told the Today programme: ‘I’m glad they (the Electoral Commission) are looking into it because clearly these are very troubling allegations and they go to the heart of ethics and integrity in our Government, and transparency.

‘It seems to me that as long as there is uncertainty, there is doubt and innuendo and rumour about who is getting contracts, who is paying for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, who is in and who is out.

‘This is distracting the Government. They are not getting on with the right priorities for the country because they are busy fighting among themselves and seeking to throw up a smokescreen.’ 

Dominic Cummings ‘is STILL in the frame as the chatty rat leaker’

Dominic Cummings is still considered a suspect in the hunt for the government’s ‘chatty rat’ leaker, sources have claimed.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will be grilled by MPs this afternoon about a string of explosive allegations made by Mr Cummings.

The PM’s former-svengali denied being the ‘chatty rat’ and on Friday accused Henry Newman, a No10 adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds, of being the most likely culprit. 

Mr Cummings said Mr Case told Boris Johnson that the leak came from ‘neither me nor the then Director of Communications (Lee Cain)’.

But Mr Case is expected to deny claims that he cleared Mr Cummings over involvement in the ‘chatty rat’ leak last year, which led to revelations in the Daily Mail that Mr Johnson was poised to order a second national lockdown in October.

Those plans were later leaked to the press than night, forcing Mr Johnson to bring forward an announcement that a four-week closure would happen in November. 

Dominic Cummings (pictured) is still considered a suspect in the hunt for the government’s ‘chatty rat’ leaker, sources have claimed

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (pictured with Mr Johnson) will be grilled by MPs this afternoon about a string of explosive allegations made by Mr Cummings

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (pictured with Mr Johnson) will be grilled by MPs this afternoon about a string of explosive allegations made by Mr Cummings

A government source last night said the inquiry – conducted with the assistance of MI5 – was ongoing, adding: ‘It has neither found anyone responsible, nor ruled anyone out.’ 

A separate Whitehall source told The Times that while Cummings’ claims he was cleared ‘could well have been true some week in November last year’ – this was no longer the case.

They added: ‘Things change. No one has been exonerated and the investigation is still active.’

Mr Johnson’s former top-aide Mr Cummings resigned in November last year after the PM’s fiancée Carrie Symonds reportedly blocked the promotion of his right-hand man Lee Cain following months of civil war on Downing Street.  

Mr Case is also expected to today face detailed questions about the refurbishment of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street used by Mr Johnson and Miss Symonds.

Mr Cummings said Mr Case (pictured) told Boris Johnson that the leak came from 'neither me nor the then Director of Communications (Lee Cain)'

Mr Cummings said Mr Case (pictured) told Boris Johnson that the leak came from ‘neither me nor the then Director of Communications (Lee Cain)’

It comes amid claims that the Prime Minister has had to take out a personal loan to pay for it. 

Adding to the controversy, one senior Tory said last night: ‘Boris had to take out a personal loan to cover the cost. 

‘You have to be pretty wealthy to have £60,000 lying around. He has just emerged from an expensive divorce.’

The Electoral Commission said yesterday it was still seeking answers from Tory chiefs about whether party funds or donations were used.

Labour last night wrote to the commission calling for a full investigation. On Friday, Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson wanted ‘donors to secretly pay for the renovation’ – which he said was ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules’.

The Mail had revealed that Mr Johnson asked Tory donors to help with the cost of the makeover which is said to run to six figures. 

On Friday, the Cabinet Office said the cost of ‘painting, sanding and floorboards’ had been paid from a £30,000 maintenance allowance, but ‘any costs of wider refurbishment have been met by the Prime Minister personally’.

The former chief aide, who quit in November, has denied being the 'chatty rat' and on Friday accused Henry Newman (centre), a No10 adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds (right), of being the most likely culprit.

The former chief aide, who quit in November, has denied being the ‘chatty rat’ and on Friday accused Henry Newman (centre), a No10 adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds (right), of being the most likely culprit.

Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the claims made by Mr Cummings were ‘tittle-tattle’ and the PM had ‘met the cost of the flat’.

Downing Street made no comment last night. 

Mr Cummings earlier denied being the ‘chatty rat’, adding: ‘Last year there was a meeting between the PM, Cabinet Secretary, the Director of Communications and me regarding the leak of the decision for a further lockdown on the Friday evening immediately after the meeting in the Cabinet Room that made the decision (known in the media as “the chatty rat story”).

‘The Cabinet Secretary told the PM that the leak was neither me nor the then Director of Communications (Lee Cain) and that ”all the evidence definitely leads to Henry Newman and others in that office, I’m just trying to get the communications data to prove it”. 

‘The PM was very upset about this. 

‘He said to me afterwards, ”If Newman is confirmed as the leaker then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie as they’re best friends … [pause] perhaps we could get the Cabinet Secretary to stop the leak inquiry?”

‘I told him that this was ”mad” and totally unethical, that he had ordered the inquiry himself and authorised the Cabinet Secretary to use more invasive methods than are usually applied to leak inquiries because of the seriousness of the leak.

‘I told him that he could not possibly cancel an inquiry about a leak that affected millions of people, just because it might implicate his girlfriend’s friends.’ 

How Dominic Cummings was fingered by MI5 WhatsApp probe over ‘Chatty Rat’ leak

How Dominic Cummings was fingered by MI5 over ‘Chatty Rat’ leak: Probe by security services into WhatsApp messages sent after key top-level meeting ‘show ex-aide was responsible’ claim opponents

Dominic Cummings was fingered as the prime suspect in the ‘chatty rat’ leak row by an investigation carried out by the security services, it was revealed today.

Opponents of the Prime Minister’s former right-hand man say that MI5 has examined records of WhatsApp messages sent from the Cabinet room in No10 after a meeting to discuss whether to bring in a new lockdown.

Those plans were later leaked to the press than night, forcing Mr Johnson to bring forward an announcement that a four-week closure would happen in November. 

According to the Sunday Times, only one message was send from the room after the meeting in late October, and the evidence gathered by spooks points the figure at Mr Cummings.

Six people were present at the meeting, Johnson, Cummings, comms chief Lee Cain,  two officials and another aide.

The paper said that MI5 had established one person had two sim cards linked to them – a suggestion they had a personal as well as work-linked phone on them – at the time, and that that was Mr Cummings.

Opponents of the Prime Minister’s former right-hand man say that MI5 has examined records of WhatsApp messages sent from the Cabinet room in No10 after a meeting to discuss whether to bring in a new lockdown.

The former chief aide, who quit in November, has denied being the 'chatty rat' and on Friday accused Henry Newman (centre), a No10 adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds (right), of being the most likely culprit.

The former chief aide, who quit in November, has denied being the ‘chatty rat’ and on Friday accused Henry Newman (centre), a No10 adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds (right), of being the most likely culprit.

 

The former chief aide, who quit in November, has denied being the ‘chatty rat’ and on Friday accused Henry Newman, a No10 adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds, of being the most likely culprit. 

‘Last year there was a meeting between the PM, Cabinet Secretary, the Director of Communications and me regarding the leak of the decision for a further lockdown on the Friday evening immediately after the meeting in the Cabinet Room that made the decision (known in the media as ‘the chatty rat story’),’ Mr Cummings wrote.

‘The Cabinet Secretary told the PM that the leak was neither me nor the then Director of Communications (Lee Cain) and that ”all the evidence definitely leads to Henry Newman and others in that office, I’m just trying to get the communications data to prove it”. 

‘The PM was very upset about this. He said to me afterwards, ”If Newman is confirmed as the leaker then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie as they’re best friends … [pause] perhaps we could get the Cabinet Secretary to stop the leak inquiry?”

‘I told him that this was ”mad” and totally unethical, that he had ordered the inquiry himself and authorised the Cabinet Secretary to use more invasive methods than are usually applied to leak inquiries because of the seriousness of the leak.

‘I told him that he could not possibly cancel an inquiry about a leak that affected millions of people, just because it might implicate his girlfriend’s friends.’

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss today said that the probe into the chatty rat saga had yet to be completed.

‘The leak inquiry is ongoing and of course, I hope that it finds who the individual was who conducted this leak because it is very, very unhelpful when confidential information is leaked from the government.’

She added: ‘As I said before, this is tittle-tattle that’s being promoted and I don’t think it really addresses the key issues that people in Britain care about.’

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