Explained: What is the row over Boris Johnson’s flat above 11 Downing Street?

The UK’s Electoral Commission has launched an inquiry into how Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s private flat on Downing Street is being funded. As per media reports, there is speculation that the renovations being carried out on the property of Johnson and his fiance Carrier Symonds are costing over £200,000, which is way more than the annual public grant of £30,000 that the prime minister receives to spend on the flat.

Johnson and Symonds moved into this flat above 11 Downing Street in July 2019 and the inquiry aims to find out who paid for the refurbishment and the amount of money spent.

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How did the row start?

The row started after Dominic Cummings, who is Johnson’s former chief adviser, claimed last week that the prime minister planned to illegally get donors to pay for his flat. In a blog Cummings wrote, “The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended. I refused to help him organise these payments.”

However, on April 23, a government minister, Lord True, said that no money from the public grant was spent in the financial year 2019-2020 and that “any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the Prime Minister personally.”

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True added, “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; this could mirror long-standing arrangements in place for Chequers (a private trust) or for Dorneywood (a charitable trust), reducing the need for subsidy from the public purse. Such matters are legally complex and policy development is ongoing.

The Government engaged with the Leader of the Opposition’s Office on the proposals in July.”
The BBC has reported that Johnson has now appointed UK’s top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, to review how the refurbishment of his flat has been paid for.

Another report by the BBC said that Tony Blair became the first prime minister to live in the flat above 11 Downing Street and it is the preferred choice for Johnson and his fiance because it is much larger than the one above number 10.

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