Boris Johnson's exoneration over his flat raises questions of its own

The argument that the Prime Minister did not know who paid for his flat is entirely in keeping with what we know of him.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Boris Johnson did not break the ministerial code by using donors’ cash to fund the purported £200,000 renovation of the Downing Street flat, he did not know for a prolonged period who had paid for his flat, and no conflict of interest would have arisen as a result of it that did not already flow from his position as leader of the Conservative party, the government’s independent adviser on standards has found.

And you know what? That all strikes me as wholly believable. I find it entirely in keeping with everything we know of the Prime Minister that he simply wouldn’t ask what was going on with the funding of his flat even as it visibly climbed well beyond the £30,000 allocated by public funds. I find it wholly plausible that he would not enquire how the cost would be met, and it is again absolutely part of the Johnson playbook that he would have absolutely no qualms about going back on a promise or undertaking to someone who had paid for the cost of his flat.

[see also: Dominic Cummings has confirmed Boris Johnson’s utter unfitness for office]

I’m just not convinced that these are good traits for a successful Prime Minister to have. The Prime Minister should be sufficiently across matters that they are concerned with who has paid for their flat. (At the least, you'd hope that they'd have some basic curiosity about it all.) Successful party leaders do need to have enough of a sense of an obligation to their party colleagues that a six-figure favour moves them politically or personally. 

Furthermore, I think the row may yet become politically difficult as the two ambitious targets the government has set itself - to reduce the United Kingdom’s emissions to net zero and to further cut back on day-to-day spending - begin to be felt. Both the direct political comparison point (your library needs to be cut but his flat can always find a willing donor) and the day-to-day reality that it is perfectly plausible that the Prime Minister is simply not across the detail of anything will, I think, become a problem sooner or later.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

Free trial CSS