Prime Minister Boris Johnson could face a fresh inquiry connected to the Downing Street flat refurbishment controversy after it emerged he had told a Conservative donor he would look into the idea of a second Great Exhibition on his behalf.
The Labour Party wrote to the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone claiming that the “cosy text messages” between the Prime Minister and Lord Brownlow raised questions over cash for access.

In WhatsApp messages dated 29 November 2020 and released on Thursday, Mr Johnson asked Lord Brownlow if he would give his approval for interior designer Lulu Lytle to begin work on the flat and added: “Ps am on the great exhibition plan Will revert.”

The Tory peer replied that he would deal the flat funding “ASAP”, adding: “Thanks for thinking about GE2.”

Because Lord Brownlow’s proposal for a “Great Exhibition 2.0” was raised in the same exchange as a request for money, even though Mr Johnson claims he thought it was via a trust, the Prime Minister could face an inquiry into cash for access.

Under House of Commons sleaze rules, MPs must declare all financial interests related to lobbying.

The WhatsApp conversation led to a meeting between the Conservative peer and then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden but the idea, as Lord Brownlow envisaged, was not progressed, Downing Street said.

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said Labour has asked Ms Stone to investigate the exchange, arguing that there are questions about potential “cash for access” for the Prime Minister to answer.

Mr Reed said the text messages “matter immensely”, arguing that they show Lord Brownlow “appears to have access to the Prime Minister because he was paying for the flat renovations” at Downing Street.

“If that is the case, that is corruption,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.

More from Politics

“Those very cosy text messages show there was a quid pro quo in operation between the Prime Minister and Lord Brownlow, and we need to get to the absolute bottom of this.”

Asked why the messages are problematic given that the Great Exhibition was not given the go-ahead, Mr Reed replied: “The issue is not whether it happened, it is whether rich people can pay to get access to Government ministers to try and influence them over how they decide to spend taxpayers’ money.”

But business minister Paul Scully insisted Mr Johnson had engaged in “appropriate communication” with Lord Brownlow – who was supposed to be heading up a charitable trust to take over the maintenance of the No 11 flat – and that “nothing untoward” occurred.

In a separate development, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote to Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser Lord Geidt raising “a number of serious concerns and questions” about the conclusion of his inquiry into the refurbishment of the flat.