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Boris’s despairing cry to Downing St aides about lavish new decor

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Like many of the most explosive political bombshells, the Downing Street flat scandal had a long fuse.

It was fourteen months ago – back in February 2020 – that officials first became alarmed by renovations to the No 11 flat.

They had good reason not to pay too much attention to decorators who had been at work there since the New Year. A dozen or so cases of Covid had been reported in Britain, and the possibility that it could endanger the UK was starting to be taken seriously by some Downing Street officials.

It was fourteen months ago – back in February 2020 – that officials first became alarmed by renovations to the No 11 flat. Pictured: Lulu Lytle's collection

It was fourteen months ago – back in February 2020 – that officials first became alarmed by renovations to the No 11 flat. Pictured: Lulu Lytle’s collection

Mr Johnson was still on a high from his election triumph in December 2019 and had had a Christmas holiday in Mustique in the Caribbean with partner Carrie Symonds – they were still to become engaged.

The couple were overjoyed to learn she was pregnant, though they had not yet shared the news with the rest of the world.

As is now well known, at this stage life-long libertarian Mr Johnson was among those who were less alarmed about the risk of a pandemic.

But he was suddenly alarmed by signs of a political problem closer to home.

They had good reason not to pay too much attention to decorators who had been at work there since the New Year. Pictured: Lulu Lytle's collection

They had good reason not to pay too much attention to decorators who had been at work there since the New Year. Pictured: Lulu Lytle’s collection

‘The cost is totally out of control – she’s buying gold wallpaper!’ he is said to have raged to aides.

It is not clear if this was classic Johnson hyperbole – or whether the wallpaper really is gold. In fact, the upmarket interior eco designer Lulu Lytle – whose Soane Britain company was commissioned by Miss Symonds – sells ‘Yellow Gold’ and ‘Old Gold’ wallpaper.

When aides asked him how much it was costing, he said: ‘Tens and tens of thousands – I can’t afford it.’

The Cabinet Office, which is in charge of maintaining the Downing Street estate, told him there was a £30,000-a-year publicly funded allowance for refurbishing the flat.

Mr Johnson would have to pay the rest – £58,000.

‘The cost is totally out of control – she’s buying gold wallpaper!’ he is said to have raged to aides. Pictured: Lulu Lytle's collection

‘The cost is totally out of control – she’s buying gold wallpaper!’ he is said to have raged to aides. Pictured: Lulu Lytle’s collection

It led to friction between Miss Symonds and Helen MacNamara, Director General of Propriety and Ethics in the Cabinet Office.

Miss Symonds is said to have urged Mr Johnson to sack Miss MacNamara after she refused to sign off extra money for the flat.

Despite his £150,000-a-year salary as Prime Minister, he is said to struggle to make ends meet as a result of losing an estimated £250,000 a year from his journalistic career as well as an expensive divorce with ex-wife Marina.

By March, Mr Johnson was having to take time out from crisis meetings on the pandemic to deal the issue his advisers called ‘Wallpaper-gate’ – after the 1970s Watergate political scandal in the US that brought down President Richard Nixon.

It is not clear if this was classic Johnson hyperbole – or whether the wallpaper really is gold

It is not clear if this was classic Johnson hyperbole – or whether the wallpaper really is gold

They started discussing who was going to pay Miss Lytle’s bill – and how.

Tory chairman Ben Elliot, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, is more noted for his political connections than his political achievements.

Like Mr Johnson he is an Old Etonian; he is best friends with another Old Etonian Lord (Zac) Goldsmith – more of whom later – and pals with Miss Symonds.

He is also a nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall.

Unlike famous Conservative chairmen of the past such as Norman Tebbit, Mr Elliot prefers to operate behind the scenes in No10 and Tory HQ.

Which is where he began to grapple with ‘Wallpaper-gate’.

In fact, the upmarket interior eco designer Lulu Lytle (designs pictured) – whose Soane Britain company was commissioned by Miss Symonds – sells ‘Yellow Gold’ and ‘Old Gold’ wallpaper

In fact, the upmarket interior eco designer Lulu Lytle (designs pictured) – whose Soane Britain company was commissioned by Miss Symonds – sells ‘Yellow Gold’ and ‘Old Gold’ wallpaper

Mr Johnson’s first idea was to ask Tory donor Lord Bamford, boss of the JCB construction giant, to pay off the £58,000.

Lord Bamford and his companies have given more than £10million to the Conservatives over the years – and wife Lady Bamford’s Daylesford farm shops delivered healthy meals to No10 after Mr Johnson recovered from Covid.

The Bamford option was dropped, though it is unclear why.

By early June, it is believed the Cabinet Office had paid the entire bill, including the ‘excess’ £58,000.

But it had to be paid back.

Mr Johnson’s team came up with another wheeze: a ‘blind trust’ modelled on the White House Trust used to maintain the US President’s Office.

Despite his £150,000-a-year salary as Prime Minister, he is said to struggle to make ends meet as a result of losing an estimated £250,000 a year from his journalistic career as well as an expensive divorce with ex-wife Marina

Despite his £150,000-a-year salary as Prime Minister, he is said to struggle to make ends meet as a result of losing an estimated £250,000 a year from his journalistic career as well as an expensive divorce with ex-wife Marina

The official aim was to ‘preserve Downing Street for posterity’ including the State Rooms.

In fact, it seems the real aim was to recoup the £58,000.

The advantage of the ‘blind trust’ would be that the prime minister of the day would not know who had given money to the trust so there could be no conflict of interest.

The proposal was soon abandoned as impractical.

Undeterred, Mr Johnson resolved to set up a different, more open, form of Downing Street trust.

Another multi-millionaire Tory donor, Lord Brownlow, was asked by Mr Johnson to set up the new trust.

It emerged yesterday that former Labour Chancellor Lord (Alistair) Darling turned down an offer in July to lead the trust.

So Lord Brownlow took on the job.

It was around this time that Tory HQ paid £58,000 to the Cabinet Office to clear the debt.

But after being told it could fall foul of Electoral Commission rules which say party funds should be used for political campaigning, the party appears to have panicked.An extraordinary apparent attempt to disguise the payment was launched.

This newspaper has been told that in early October Mr Johnson also discussed his financial woes in No10 with Lord Goldsmith.

Miss Symonds’s appointment in January as head of communications for the Aspinall Foundation, a wildlife charity, was a welcome boost to her and Mr Johnson’s income. A leaked email obtained by the Daily Mail showed that on October 23, Lord Brownlow told Mr Elliot that he had made a £58,000 ‘donation’ to Tory HQ.

He made it clear it was to cover the same sum paid by the party to the Cabinet Office.

He added the £58,000 was to be attributed to the ‘soon-to-be-formed Downing Trust’ – headed by Lord Brownlow himself. Six months later the trust is no nearer to being established.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said this week that it could not be used to pay to refurbish either of the two Downing Street flats at numbers 10 and 11 – either now or in the future.

Bearing in mind that was its real, albeit unstated, purpose all along, insiders say the trust will now be ‘quietly dumped.’ Meanwhile, Downing Street now says the refurbishment costs ‘have been met by the Prime Minister personally’, but has not explained how Mr Johnson paid the £58,000.

It is not clear where he got the money from – nor who he has paid it to.

Miss Lytle? The Cabinet Office? Tory HQ? Lord Brownlow? The money trail is not just murky, it is dizzying. Opposition by Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings to using donors to pay for the flat was one of the reasons of his acrimonious exit from Downing Street in December.

But this newspaper has been told that when his successor, ex-banker Dan Rosenfield joined No10 in January, he was similarly shocked.

‘He couldn’t believe anyone had allowed such a crazy arrangement to go ahead in the first place – or that so much time had been spent on trying and failing to sort out the mess,’ said a source.

Former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell said yesterday: ‘Prime ministers have to set an example and should abide by the rules which are there for a good reason. He needs to concentrate on issues like Covid and the way to do that is to abide by the rules.’

In his blistering attack last week Mr Cummings said he told Mr Johnson early last year that the funding of flat makeover was ‘unethical, foolish and possibly illegal.’

Whether you think Cummings is a genius or the devil incarnate, it is hard to disagree that Mr Johnson is guilty on at least one of the three counts. 

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Social Democrats activists consider deferring request on leadership contest

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A group of Social Democrats activists who want to see a leadership election in the party is looking at deferring their request to consider such a contest until after a new general secretary is appointed to the party.

A draft letter to the party’s national executive, signed by two councillors and 14 others, seeking the leadership contest emerged on Friday evening.

The letter, which has not been sent to party authorities, requested the national executive meet to hold a vote to call a leadership election.

It pays tribute to the party’s current co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, who it states “have done exceptional work”, but adds that “it is now time to move to the next stage”.

The party released a statement later the same evening saying its TDs are “united behind co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall”. This statement was shared on Twitter by all six of the party’s Dáil Deputies.

One of the councillors who signed the draft letter, Kildare representative Chris Pender, responded with his own social media post saying: “Anyone who’s read the letter will know it states we don’t have an issue with the leaders, but we believe in the democratic right to vote for that/those leaders.

“A leadership contest would give members the opportunity to show support for the current leaders, if that’s what they want.”

Cllr Cat O’Driscoll, who sits on Dublin City Council, was the other public representative who signed the draft letter.

Motivations

Sources insisted the motivations behind seeking a contest include giving the Social Democrats’ membership a say in who leads the party, as well as an issue of timing. They say with no general election expected imminently, it would give the next leader time to prepare.

It was also revealed on Friday that Brian Sheehan, a former director of the Yes Equality campaign, is to step down from his role as Social Democrats general secretary in early September. The decision is not connected with the call for a leadership election and those behind the draft letter were unaware of Mr Sheehan’s decision to leave the job.

However, it has prompted a rethink of the request for a leadership contest.

The Irish Times understands the activists are considering a new version of the letter that takes Mr Sheehan’s departure into account and would not seek a discussion about a leadership contest until after his successor is in place and has had some time in the job. A source suggested the approach with any new letter would be “a bit more cautious”.

On Monday, a party spokeswoman ruled out any contest for the leadership, either before or after the appointment of a new general secretary.

“The rules of the party state any leader must be a TD and all of our TDs are united in their support for the party leadership. The general secretary position is entirely unrelated to the party leadership,” she said.

Ms Murphy and Ms Shortall have jointly led the Social Democrats since its establishment in 2015.


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Instagrammer captures abandoned Welsh property in series of eerie photographs

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Who would live in a house like this? Instagrammer photographs abandoned Welsh property – complete with a bottle of Champagne for ‘Grandad’s’ 90th birthday, dishes still in the sink and a newspaper dating back to 1956

  • Photographs reveal the rooms have been untouched for decades and house opened bottle of Champagne  
  • Discovery was made by Instagrammer Kyle Urbex while exploring the countryside in Flintshire, North Wales 
  • Kyle said: ‘Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory’ 
  • ***Do YOU know who lived in the abandoned house? Contact izzy.nikolic@mailonline.co.uk*** 

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An abandoned Welsh house has been captured in a series of eerie photographs complete with a bottle of Champagne for ‘Grandad’s’ 90th birthday and dishes still in the sink.  

Photographs reveal rooms that have been untouched for decades and reveal a bottle of bubbly with a sticker which reads: ‘Happy 90th Birthday. Sorry I can’t be there to drink this with you! Lots of love James xxx.’  

The property has been dubbed ‘Granddad’s abandoned house’ after it was discovered tucked away in the woods. 

A piano can also be seen with sheet music still in place along with clothes hanging up and dishes still in the sink.

Photographs reveal rooms that have been untouched for decades and reveal a bottle of bubbly with a sticker which reads: 'Happy 90th Birthday. Sorry I can't be there to drink this with you! Lots of love James xxx'

Pictured: A piano can also be seen with sheet music still in place along with clothes hanging up

Photographs reveal rooms that have been untouched for decades and reveal a bottle of bubbly with a sticker which reads: ‘Happy 90th Birthday. Sorry I can’t be there to drink this with you! Lots of love James xxx’

The property has been dubbed 'Granddad's abandoned house' after it was discovered tucked away in the woods. Pictured: The exterior of the property

The property has been dubbed ‘Granddad’s abandoned house’ after it was discovered tucked away in the woods. Pictured: The exterior of the property 

Random debris including a broken bicycle, piping, empty tins and folding tables and chairs were left strewn throughout the house

The discovery was made by Instagrammer Kyle Urbex (pictured) while he was exploring the countryside in Flintshire, North Wales

Random debris including a broken bicycle, piping, empty tins and folding tables and chairs were left strewn throughout the house

Mr Urbex said: 'I visited the property just over four weeks ago and getting to the actual location wasn't too bad, just a walk up a small hill and the door was wide open'

Mr Urbex said: ‘I visited the property just over four weeks ago and getting to the actual location wasn’t too bad, just a walk up a small hill and the door was wide open’

The discovery was made by Instagrammer Kyle Urbex while he was exploring the countryside in Flintshire, North Wales.

Kyle also spotted a newspaper dating back to 1956 in what he believes was once someone’s ‘dream family home.’

He said: ‘I visited the property just over four weeks ago and getting to the actual location wasn’t too bad, just a walk up a small hill and the door was wide open.

‘Once inside I instantly saw the whole location was eerie because it was a house full to the brim of memories, ranging from clothes in the bedroom to old decaying pianos which once may have entertained many.

‘The porch area had been trashed, however the seating still remained intact and of course the champagne bottle for his 90th birthday still left on the fireplace.

He added: 'Once inside I instantly saw the whole location was eerie because it was a house full to the brim of memories, ranging from clothes in the bedroom to old decaying pianos which once may have entertained many'

Dishes are left undone in the sink in the kitchen

He added: ‘Once inside I instantly saw the whole location was eerie because it was a house full to the brim of memories, ranging from clothes in the bedroom to old decaying pianos which once may have entertained many’

Kyle says he has now been left wondering about the story behind the house. He added: ‘While the place appears to have been ransacked by vandals, clothes still hang in wardrobes; one of the few signs of the home it once was’

Kyle also spotted a newspaper dating back to 1956 in what he believes was once someone's 'dream family home'

Kyle also spotted a newspaper dating back to 1956 in what he believes was once someone’s ‘dream family home’

Mr Urbex added: 'Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory and how somebody could just leave so much memories and cherished possessions behind'

Mr Urbex added: ‘Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory and how somebody could just leave so much memories and cherished possessions behind’

‘I found it quite sad really given all the memories just left to be forgotten about. As well as the house there was a caravan hidden at the back in all the overgrowth which had more memories inside, old books and so on.

‘I managed to uncover an old bike in the shed which looked like it had been there quite a while.

‘Alongside all of these findings I came across a newspaper dated from November 3 1956.’

Kyle says he has now been left wondering about the story behind the house.

He added: ‘While the place appears to have been ransacked by vandals, clothes still hang in wardrobes; one of the few signs of the home it once was.

‘Overall the whole exploration just left me wondering the whole backstory and how somebody could just leave so much memories and cherished possessions behind.’

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Foley to bring school reopening plan to Cabinet on Tuesday

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Minister for Education Norma Foley says she has every confidence schools will reopen fully from late August and early September.

Ms Foley said there was ongoing engagement between her department and public health officials on the matter but all schools were set to reopen.

Strong mitigation measures would be in place in schools to ensure that they would continue to be controlled environments, she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Monday.

Covid-19 infection rates among children were at their highest when children were not at school and public health experts had pointed out “on a consistent basis to schools being a very significantly controlled environment”.

The safe operation of the Leaving Certificate exams and enhanced summer camps indicated that the safe operation of education could be maintained, she said.

A plan would be put in place to allow schools to “draw down” CO2 monitors and the Minister said she was confident there would be enough monitors for all schools by the start of the new school year.

In relation to Covid-19 vaccines for children, Ms Foley said the “expertise” lay with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) from which her department would take guidance.

“I have received confirmation that the 16 to 18-year-old cohort should be in a position for online registration in the coming days, and I have been advised that the 15-year-olds cohort are still being considered by NIAC and there has been no definitive timeline given,” she added.

Ms Foley will bring a plan to Cabinet on Tuesday outlining enhanced public information campaigns, the outcome of antigen testing pilots, and the purchase of C02 monitors to assist in ventilating classrooms.

Capacity limits on school transport services will also remain in place.

Government sources were adamant on Sunday that second-level education would resume in the autumn, despite concerns among public-health officials that the wave could grow following the reopening of indoor dining today, before peaking in September.

“Schools will reopen,” a senior Coalition source said.

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