Boris Johnson's apartment renovation proves costly as opponents grapple with sleaze scandal

Boris Johnson’s apartment renovation proves costly as opponents grapple with sleaze scandal

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has overseen one of the highest coronavirus death rates in Europe, his Brexit project is in trouble and his country is in danger of falling apart.

But her biggest problem right now is some cushions and a few rolls of wallpaper.

The UK Election Commission watchdog on Wednesday opened an investigation into renovations to the Prime Minister’s official residence above the Downing Street offices, saying there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that one or several offenses could have taken place “.

This follows allegations that the lavish renovations were initially paid for using undeclared money from a Conservative Party donor.

But for many observers, it is much more than that.

Opponents say the ‘money for pillows’ claim is just the latest example of a ‘Tory sleaze’ – Johnson’s Tory Party has for centuries been dubbed the ‘Tories’ – through which senior jobs and government contracts moneys were given to friends, relatives and other contacts. during the pandemic.

“What do we get from this Prime Minister and this Conservative government? Questionable contracts, jobs for their companions and money for access,” Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said on Wednesday. , during a heated debate in the House of Commons. “And who’s at the heart of it? The Prime Minister. Major Sleaze, sitting there,” he added, gesturing to Johnson across the room.

Johnson has denied any wrongdoing and says he has now paid the full cost of the renovations. But he declined to answer key questions about who paid what and when.

Losing his usual jovial demeanor, the Prime Minister fell into a red-faced rant when Starmer – formerly Britain’s chief state prosecutor – repeatedly pressed him for answers in Parliament.

“Week after week the people of this country can see the difference between a Labor Party that turns and turns with the wind and thinks of nothing but playing political games,” Johnson said at a of his attempts to change the subject.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle was forced to intervene: “Order! Let’s see if we can calm the situation down a bit.”

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Prime Ministers are given 30,000 pounds (approximately $ 42,000) each year to renovate their official residence above 11 Downing Street. But the Daily Mail and other newspapers reported Johnson’s costs were many multiples of that.

Johnson ignored Starmer’s question about reports that £ 58,000 of this bill was paid by Lord Brownlow, a millionaire businessman and Tory member of the Upper House of Parliament, who donated nearly £ 3million. books at the party.

Johnson’s now estranged ex-adviser Dominic Cummings wrote in a blog post last week that “the Prime Minister’s plans to secretly charge donors for the renovation were unethical, stupid, maybe be illegal and would almost certainly break the rules ”if they were implemented in the way he saw fit.

Johnson points to Starmer during the Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.Jessica Taylor / British Parliament / AFP – Getty Images

UK lawmakers are expected to report donations or loans over £ 500 within 28 days, an attempt to ensure that any access or preferable treatment they give to donors is recorded and tracked.

The allegations are serious. The Election Commission has the power to impose fines of up to £ 20,000 and refer the matter to the police if necessary. However, Johnson says he will be the final judge of the ministerial code violation.

“There is the stench of corruption around this government,” said Scott Lucas, professor of international politics at the University of England in Birmingham. “And by that I mean the number of contracts that have been awarded to friends and cronies exploiting the pandemic.

For others, the questions about Johnson’s apartment are more a symptom of a power struggle raging in the heart of Downing Street.

Critics describe a system in which the prime minister’s courtiers have split into factions, courting each other and vying for the prime minister’s attention.

These newspaper leaks brought more damaging stories, including the claim that Johnson said in a meeting that he would rather “let the bodies pile up” rather than introduce another national lockdown.

Johnson has categorically denied making the comment, which was reported by most UK newspapers as well as the BBC and its main competitor ITV, all citing several anonymous sources who said they heard the remark.

Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds applaud key workers in May of last year.Leon Neal File / Getty Images

Among Johnson’s court figures is his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, a former Conservative Party communications manager, who is believed to have been behind the lavish renovations.

She managed to offend a bastion of British cultural life when a profile of her in high society magazine Tatler said her renovation was needed to get rid of what an anonymous visitor called the ‘nightmare of the John Lewis’ furniture left by the previous one. Prime Minister, Theresa May.

John Lewis Department Store is one of Britain’s most beloved brands, characterized by its annual Christmas TV commercial that has become a must-see on the calendar.

Johnson’s troubles could escalate in the coming weeks, thanks to his former right-hand man.

Cummings, armed with a back catalog of text messages and emails from his time near the throne, is due to testify to lawmakers next month and has vowed to answer all their questions.

Cummings “seems to have absolutely every record of every conversation during this period, and has absolutely no qualms about using them to retaliate when attacked,” according to Robert Colvile, who co-wrote Johnson’s election manifesto. in 2019 and who is now its director. from the Center for Policy Studies, a London right-wing think tank.

Johnson choosing a fight with Cummings is like “choosing a gasoline fight with an arsonist,” said Colvile, using the British word for gasoline. “Strategically, it wasn’t the best decision he had ever made.”