Past presents future threat for Johnson as investigations loom
There are three spectres haunting Boris Johnson as the prime minister spends a tense Christmas monitoring hospitalisation data in order to make a call on whether or not to cancel New Year’s Eve celebrations and place new restrictions on the country from January.
Cabinet Office sources have suggested there will now be no update before Christmas to the potential reopening of an investigation by Lord Geidt, the adviser on ministerial standards, into Johnson’s flat redecoration.
That will make it a hat-trick of potentially serious censures awaiting Johnson in the new year – firstly from Geidt, who is said to be considering his position, as well as from Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating Downing Street lockdown gatherings.
The third and potentially most serious is one by the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone into Johnson’s donations to cover the refurbishment of his residence.
Geidt’s investigation, which he undertook in May, cleared Johnson of wrongdoing over a £52,000 donation to the Conservatives from the party donor Lord Brownlow to cover the costs of redecorating the No 11 flat he shares with his wife, Carrie, and their two children.
Geidt reported that Johnson told him “he knew nothing about such payments” until February 2021. However, WhatsApp messages that emerged during an Electoral Commission inquiry into the funding showed that Johnson had been in direct contact with Brownlow in November 2020.
Downing Street has said Johnson only knew Brownlow was handling the donations, rather than funding them.
Pressure is piling on Geidt from opposition parties and campaigners to make a call on whether to censure Johnson – or resign if there are grounds to believe he was misled.
Tom Brake, director of the campaign group Unlock Democracy, said the silence from Geidt could mean one of three things. “Either the PM has refused to allow Lord Geidt to open a fresh inquiry, or the PM is stonewalling him, or he has interviewed the PM and is waiting to publish his report. Whichever it is, the public deserves to know. Lord Geidt should confirm, without further delay, whether our PM subscribes to the Nolan principles of integrity, accountability, openness and honesty.”