Friday, January 21

‘Funds for Favors’: Geidt Presses to Reopen Investigation of Prime Minister’s Flat | Boris johnson


Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser has been accused of failing to investigate a possible “funds for favors” scandal after the prime minister was acquitted of breaking rules on the remodeling of his Downing Street flat.

Christopher Geidt closed his investigation without commenting on Johnson seeking funding for the works of a conservative donor while promising to consider plans for a “major exhibition.” Expectations also faded that another investigation, led by parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone, would take place.

However, it emerged that the UK data watchdog has launched an investigation in the Cabinet Office after a complaint that it was unable to release the WhatsApp messages exchanged between Boris Johnson and the fellow Conservative who funded the renovation of his flat, David Brownlow.

Pressure on Lord Geidt to reopen his investigation increased on Friday night when Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, said his decision to close the case “raises a number of serious questions and concerns.”

He claimed that the original finding that Lord Brownlow had “altruistic and philanthropic motives” to pay for the apartment remodel, and that there was “no reasonably perceived conflict,” seemed undermined by the WhatsApp messages.

The existence of the messages emerged as part of an Electoral Commission investigation that concluded in December, but their contents were only released on Thursday.

They showed that Johnson told Brownlow that parts of her apartment number 11 were a “suggestion” and that she was eager for her decorating designer to “go ahead” and ask if he could put her in touch “for approvals.” The prime minister added: “PS: I am on the grand exhibition plan. It will be reversed.”

In his response, Brownlow said that he would “fix it” and that “approval is child’s play as it’s just me and I know where the sterling will come from”, adding: “Thanks for thinking about GE2”.

The great exhibition plan had the support of Brownlow, who several weeks later met to discuss it with the then secretary of culture, Oliver Dowden. On Friday, Johnson’s spokesman confirmed that No. 10 passed an inquiry about the suggested event to Dowden’s department.

Johnson was forced to offer a “humble and sincere apology” for not remembering the messages and blamed “security issues”, believed to relate to when his personal phone number was posted online, for not having access. to the phone they were on.

Rayner said it was “irrelevant” whether Brownlow’s motives were altruistic, adding: “The problem is that a reasonable person could surely perceive that his financial relationship with the prime minister has provided him with privileged access to the government, and that relationship does not it was declared in time. “

Rayner accused Geidt of imposing on Johnson a “much weaker” standard for potential conflicts of interest than that set out in the code of conduct for MPs, adding: “This suggests that it will hold ministers to a lower standard of transparency. than indirect parliamentarians “. “

He called on Geidt to release a new or amended report, but high-level Whitehall sources downplayed that possibility. “It probably won’t get anywhere,” said one. “I am sure Lord Geidt will give a courteous answer.”

While Stone waited for the Election Commission and Geidt’s investigation to conclude before continuing, it was said that the standards commissioner was unlikely to launch an investigation of her own. This is because he used Johnson’s flat as a minister, which means that any possible wrongdoing would have to be judged under the ministerial code.

Rayner asked Stone on Dec. 9 to launch an investigation into whether Johnson broke the rule that MPs must be honest, given the non-disclosure of the texts with Brownlow. However, even if Stone dismisses it, Labor could file a separate complaint based on the new evidence that emerged this week.

The code of conduct for deputies makes it clear that ministers are bound by the ministerial code, which is not enforced by the standards commissioner. But it adds allegations of “breaching the rules on lobbying for a reward or consideration” that are within Stone’s purview.

Further criticizing Geidt’s investigation, Labor lawyers wrote to him on January 4 after stories appeared in the press suggesting that Johnson would be acquitted of violating the ministerial code. The Edwards Duthie Shamash law firm said the “apparent failure” of Geidt’s investigation to obtain the WhatsApp messages was “beyond regrettable.”

Geidt was accused in the letter of “failing to ask the necessary questions to get to the truth of this matter and that such failures should not allow the prime minister to escape the consequences of apparent violations of the ministerial code.”

The attorneys added: “Recent briefings have done little to restore my client’s faith in the processes that you preside over.” Geidt did not respond, but his office said in response to another letter sent several weeks earlier that it is “generally not appropriate” for him to “engage in legal correspondence regarding the performance of his duties.”

Separately, the Cabinet Office is under investigation after it was asked in a Freedom of Information request for all correspondence between Johnson and Brownlow, but claimed there was nothing to hand over.

The data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), received a letter from Rayner in December raising “concerns” that the Elections Commission report had unearthed texts exchanged between Johnson and Brownlow. “We are now consulting on the handling of this request,” a senior ICO official confirmed in response, saying it was a “real case.”

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, defended Geidt, saying he was “highly respected and has a very fiercely independent role.”

Downing Street said Brownlow received no special treatment. “Ministers have a variety of ideas and proposals that are presented to them by various people, through MPs, through other parties,” Johnson’s spokesman said.


www.theguardian.com

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