Boris Johnson urges Cabinet to focus on policy amid briefing war

Boris Johnson pleaded with ministers to stay focused on ‘core’ priorities today as he struggles to fend of a fresh wave of briefing in his war with Dominic Cummings.

The PM has gathered Cabinet as he faces fresh allegations that he said he would rather let coronavirus ‘rip’ in September than inflict the economic harm of another lockdown.

No10 pointedly stopped short of denying the latest claims – which came after more sources came forward to confirm Mr Johnson had made a crass comment about letting ‘bodies pile up’ instead of imposing restrictions – despite his public denials.  

Meanwhile, the premier is under massive pressure about the lavish redecoration of his Downing Street flat after it emerged that the Conservative Party settled a £58,000 bill last summer.

Mr Johnson is believed to have since repaid the sum, after the Cabinet Office seemingly concluded it was not permitted to fund the works in that way. But nothing has been declared officially. 

Former civil service chief Lord O’Donnell said this morning that transparency over the arrangements was ‘very late’, warning that PMs need to ‘set an example’ and ‘obey the rules’.   

There is speculation that if a Tory donor initially footed the cost, Mr Johnson could face a tax bill of up to £26,500 because HMRC would consider it a benefit in kind.

In a further setback, it has emerged that Mr Johnson texted Dominic Cummings last year suggesting he was in the clear over the notorious ‘chatty rat’ leak inquiry – undermining Downing Street’s claims that the former aide was behind a string of damaging disclosures. 

Asked about reports Mr Johnson told aides he would rather let coronavirus ‘rip’ than return to restrictions in September, the PM’s official spokesman said: ‘I have seen the various reports and speculation which distort the actions of the Prime Minister.

‘At all times he has been focused on saving lives and livelihoods.’  

Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson (pictured left out running this morning) is facing mounting questions over his personal conduct in a string of controversies – amid a briefing war with former aide Dominic Cummings (right)

In the Commons Michael Gove said it was ‘incredible’ to suggest the Prime Minister would have used such language and fellow minister Nadine Dorries branded it a ‘lie’

In the Commons Michael Gove said it was ‘incredible’ to suggest the Prime Minister would have used such language and fellow minister Nadine Dorries branded it a ‘lie’

How the scandal over the Downing Street flat refurbishment unfolded 

July 2019: Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, pictured, move into the four-bedroom flat. Miss Symonds is reportedly keen to get rid of the ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’.

July 2020: The Conservative Party pays £58,000 to the Cabinet Office for the cost of refurbishing the flat.

October 2020: Tory donor Lord Brownlow emails party chairman Ben Elliot and head of fundraising Mike Chattey, saying he has given £58,000 to cover payments ‘the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed ‘Downing Street Trust’. Lord Brownlow says he chairs the trust, which reportedly planned to preserve the famous street’s heritage and decor.

March 6, 2021: The Daily Mail reveals that Mr Johnson wanted Tory donors to contribute to the cost of redecorating the flat, and that the party tried to launch a cover-up. No 10 insists there has been no wrongdoing.

March 20, 2021: The Electoral Commission quizzes Tory chiefs over the funding of the makeover and has asked Mr Elliot to explain whether the Conservative Party complied with laws on political donations.

April 21, 2021: The Mail publishes emails sent by Lord Brownlow to Mr Elliot.

April 22, 2021: It emerges that Whitehall’s most senior mandarin, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, is investigating how the refurbishment of Mr Johnson’s flat was paid for.

April 23, 2021: The Cabinet Office announces that beyond basic taxpayer-funded work on the flat any wider refurbishment costs ‘have been met by the PM personally’. No 10 does not give details of how Mr Johnson paid the £58,000.

Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings says he warned the PM in 2020 he could be breaking the law if he asked Tory donors to pay for the refurbishment, calling proposal ‘unethical, foolish and possible illegal’.

April 26, 2021: Mr Case tells MPs the idea of setting up a trust to fund the upkeep of Downing Street has been looked into but it could not pay for refurbishments to the Prime Minister’s flat.

With Tories increasingly alarmed that the burgeoning row could hit the party at a crucial round of elections next week, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was sent out on the airwaves this morning to try to shore up the government’s position.  

She insisted she took Mr Johnson’s word that he never made the remark about ‘bodies piling up’, and said he would make ‘declarations in the usual way’ on the flat.

‘The right declarations will be made, the Prime Minister paid for it personally, and in the meantime he is out leading the Government in trying to get back on the road map to recovery, and I think we’re making good progress on that,’ Ms Coffey said.

Among the new round of allegations today, Mr Johnson was accused of arguing during a Government debate in September that lockdowns were ‘mad’.

Downing Street described the claims in the Times as ‘gross distortions’ of Mr Johnson’s position.

Ministers tried to play down yesterday’s explosive revelation in the Daily Mail that Mr Johnson had allegedly raged at officials that he would rather see ‘bodies pile high in their thousands’ than order a third lockdown.

But the Mail’s story was confirmed by both the BBC and ITV, citing their own sources. 

In a terse denial yesterday, Mr Johnson said he had not uttered the words. 

Asked if he made the comments, Mr Johnson told reporters in Wrexham: ‘No, but I think the important thing I think people want us to get on and do as a Government is to make sure that the lockdowns work.’

In the Commons Michael Gove said it was ‘incredible’ to suggest the Prime Minister would have used such language and fellow minister Nadine Dorries branded it a ‘lie’.

But ITV political editor Robert Peston said two eyewitnesses, neither of whom had spoken to the Mail, confirmed that Mr Johnson had made the outburst following a tense meeting to agree the second lockdown in October last year.

News of the Covid clampdown was leaked to the Mail last October just hours after the decision was taken. 

The leak infuriated the PM who told the Cabinet Office to launch an investigation to hunt down the so-called ‘chatty rat’ who leaked it.

Last week, Mr Johnson ordered an extraordinary briefing war against Mr Cummings, in which his former aide was accused of being behind the leak.

The former Vote Leave chief responded with an explosive 1,100-word statement in which he said both the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case had exonerated him of involvement. 

Mr Case did not dispute this claim yesterday. 

But he denied Mr Cummings’s allegation that Mr Johnson had tried to block the investigation after learning that a close friend of his fiancée Carrie Symonds had been implicated.

He told MPs it was ‘probable’ that investigators would never be able to determine who leaked the story, despite bringing in MI5 to help track the mobile phone data of senior ministers and officials.

Mr Case was earlier left squirming as he tried to duck questions from MPs over who paid for the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat in 11 Downing Street. 

In a second blow, he was facing further questions about the lavish redecoration of his flat after it emerged that the Conservative Party settled a £58,000 bill last summer. Whitehall sources suggested the Prime Minister, who has now paid the bill himself, may be forced to formally declare the loan over the coming days. Pictured: A design by Lulu Lytle

In a second blow, he was facing further questions about the lavish redecoration of his flat after it emerged that the Conservative Party settled a £58,000 bill last summer. Whitehall sources suggested the Prime Minister, who has now paid the bill himself, may be forced to formally declare the loan over the coming days. Pictured: A design by Lulu Lytle

Boris Johnson ‘said he would rather let coronavirus ”rip” than impose a second lockdown’ 

Boris Johnson told aides in September that he would rather let coronavirus ‘rip’ than impose another lockdown, it has been claimed. 

The PM is said to have argued that there was no evidence lockdowns worked and dubbed them ‘mad’ during an intense debate.

According to the Times, Mr Johnson repeatedly made the ‘let it rip’ comments in this period and said further lockdown would cause businesses to close and people to lose their jobs.

The PM also apparently suggested regret over the first national lockdown and even compared himself to the mayor in the film Jaws who kept the beaches open despite the risk of shark attacks.

Mr Johnson has previously described the mayor as the ‘real hero’ of the film for resisting political pressure.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘These are gross distortions of his position. Throughout this pandemic we’ve done everything we can to save lives and protect livelihoods.’ 

Britain’s most senior civil servant refused to say whether political donations had been accepted to help settle the bill for the redecoration overseen by eco-designer Lulu Lytle last year. 

He confirmed revelations in the Mail that Mr Johnson had sought to establish a new charitable trust overseen by Tory donor Lord Brownlow to pay for the upkeep of the flat. 

But he said it was now clear that a charitable trust could not be used to renovate private areas of No 10, leaving Mr Johnson to pick up the bill.

Mr Case claimed he could not comment further because he was now leading a new review of the issue for the Prime Minister – prompting former shadow chancellor John McDonnell to describe his evidence as a ‘badly scripted version of Yes, Minister’.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lord O’Donnell said if Mr Johnson wanted to focus on policy rather than a sleaze row the best thing was to ‘obey the rules’. 

‘The issue is really whether we expect our MPs, ministers and PMs to obey the rules. If there are a set of rules presumably they are there for a good reason,’ the former Cabinet Secretary said.

‘They can be changed if people think they are wrong. But if they are there we would expect people, and ministers in particular, to obey those rules. They are required to under the ministerial code.

‘Transparency is always a good thing.’

Asked whether it mattered given there does not appear to be any taxpayer money involved, the peer said: ‘We are very late, aren’t we. Let’s be honest in this case… there should be a set-up to ensure that these things happen.

‘PMs have to set an example and therefore they should abide by the rules. I think that is really important.’

He added: ‘The simple way of not being worried about all this is just obey all the rules.’

In emails revealed by the Mail last week Lord Brownlow said he had given the Conservative Party £58,000 to cover payments ‘the party has already made’.

The Cabinet Office told Parliament on Friday that Mr Johnson had now settled the bill himself. 

A senior Tory told the Mail he had had to take out a personal loan to cover it.

Whitehall sources last night suggested that the Prime Minister would declare the financial support he received in the next register of ministerial interests, which could come as soon as this week.

But Labour yesterday stepped up calls for a full inquiry by the Electoral Commission. 

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was time for ‘a full and transparent investigation into everything going on’ in No 10.

The allegations of sleaze and cronyism may now be having an impact, with an Ipsos Mori poll for the London Evening Standard showing Tory support has fallen by five points in a month. 

The poll put them on 40 per cent, three points in front of Labour. 

Wallpapergate: Rules Boris may have breached 

ANALYSIS by Daniel Martin for the Daily Mail 

The Prime Minister has faced weeks of controversy over the refurbishment of his flat, consistently denying any wrongdoing. Here we look at the rules that may have been broken.

POTENTIAL BREACH OF MINISTERIAL CODE

It has been reported that Conservative Central Office solicited a £58,000 donation from Tory donor Lord Brownlow to cover the cost of the Downing Street refurbishment via a trust fund which, at the time, had not yet been set up.

This could potentially be in breach of the ministerial code as getting a Tory donor to pay for the refurbishment may be seen as a potential conflict of interest for the PM.

The code – which Boris Johnson oversees – states that ministers must ‘scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest between their ministerial position and their private financial interests’.

It could be argued that using a political donation to pay for private matters could influence policy decisions.

POTENTIAL BREACH OF ELECTORAL COMMISSION RULES

If it emerges that the Conservative Party solicited the donation for the flat but planned to record it with the Electoral Commission as a political donation, that could also fall foul of the rules.

Donations are meant to be for party matters such as fighting elections, not funding decorating. In addition, all donations must be made on a quarterly basis to the commission.

Leaked emails show Lord Brownlow offered to make a £58,000 donation last October, but it appears that this was not registered with the commission in January as part of the Tories’ quarterly declaration.

WHAT IF THE TORIES SAY THE MONEY WAS A LOAN, NOT A DONATION?

Downing Street insists the £58,000 has now been paid out of Mr Johnson’s own pocket.

But it is now believed No 10 is preparing to say the money was actually a loan to the PM from the Tory party after it emerged yesterday that Conservative HQ initially settled the bill for the work with the Cabinet Office last year.

Critics are likely to say that even if claimed as a loan, it is a donation under another guise.

PM: No, I didn’t make ‘bodies’ remark. BBC & ITV: But we have sources who say the Mail story is right 

By Daniel Martin Policy Editor for the Daily Mail

The political editors of the BBC and ITV yesterday corroborated Boris Johnson’s alleged remarks over the coronavirus death toll.

The Mail had reported that after reluctantly agreeing to a second national lockdown, the Prime Minister had apparently said he would rather see ‘the bodies pile high in their thousands’ than order a third round of curbs.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, joined ministers taking to the airwaves yesterday to insist the reports were untrue.

Mr Johnson himself went before TV cameras to issue a flat denial, saying the claims were ‘total, total rubbish’.

The political editors of the BBC and ITV yesterday corroborated Boris Johnson’s (pictured) alleged remarks over the coronavirus death toll

The political editors of the BBC and ITV yesterday corroborated Boris Johnson’s (pictured) alleged remarks over the coronavirus death toll

But the two respected political editors of the BBC and ITV – Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston – both reported yesterday afternoon that they had heard the same allegations of Mr Johnson’s comments from their own sources.

Later, in the Commons, Michael Gove declined to completely reject the reports, saying only that it was ‘incredible’ to suggest that the Prime Minister could have said such a thing. The Cabinet Office Minister insisted he was not in the meeting room when the alleged comment was made.

It is understood, however, that the remark was made in the Prime Minister’s study.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer yesterday said he was ‘astonished’ by the reports.

He added: ‘Everybody would be deeply concerned, not least all those families who have lost someone in the pandemic.’

In the afternoon, Mr Gove (pictured) told MPs he ‘never heard language of that kind’ in the meeting where Mr Johnson ordered the second shutdown in England. He also said: ‘The idea that he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind’

In the afternoon, Mr Gove (pictured) told MPs he ‘never heard language of that kind’ in the meeting where Mr Johnson ordered the second shutdown in England. He also said: ‘The idea that he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind’

Sources told the Mail that Mr Johnson resisted a second lockdown last October even as Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Mr Gove argued it was necessary. When he finally agreed to new restrictions after Mr Gove warned him that soldiers would otherwise have to be deployed to protect overwhelmed hospitals, he is alleged to have said: ‘No more f***ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands.’

Asked yesterday if he made the comments, Mr Johnson told reporters in Wrexham: ‘Total, total rubbish.

‘What I certainly think is that this country has done an amazing job with the lockdowns. And they’ve been very difficult. And they’ve been very tough for people. And there’s no question about that.’

He insisted the ‘stuff that people are talking about’ in Westminster were not issues being raised on the doorstep ahead of the May 6 elections. The Prime Minister added: ‘Nobody wants to go into a lockdown but they’ve helped us. The discipline the public has shown has helped us to get the numbers of cases down very considerably.’

However, the Mail’s report was later backed up by the BBC, which said it had been told so by sources familiar with the conversation.

Miss Kuenssberg said that at the time, Mr Johnson was reported to have had big concerns about the implications of another lockdown on the economy and non-Covid related health issues.

Laura Kuenssberg

Robert Peston

But the two respected political editors of the BBC and ITV – Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston – both reported yesterday afternoon that they had heard the same allegations of Mr Johnson’s comments from their own sources

‘This does take us back to that moment and back to the very serious claims made by some people who were involved in the decision making – including some ministers – that the hesitancy around the second lockdown did cost lives,’ she said.

Mr Peston also said that he was told Mr Johnson shouted the phrase in his study after he agreed to the second lockdown ‘in a rage’. He said he was told that the doors to the Cabinet room and outer office were allegedly open, meaning that a number of people heard. Yesterday morning, Mr Wallace said the ‘bodies’ allegation was ‘ludicrous’ and that anonymous briefing had reached ‘the comedy chapter now of these gossip stories’.

‘The Prime Minister has been utterly focused on delivering, alongside Cabinet colleagues, the response to Covid,’ he said.

In the afternoon, Mr Gove told MPs he ‘never heard language of that kind’ in the meeting where Mr Johnson ordered the second shutdown in England. ‘I was in the meeting that afternoon, with the Prime Minister and other ministers, as we looked at what was happening with the virus and with the pandemic,’ he said. ‘We were dealing with one of the most serious decisions that this Prime Minister and any government have had to face. People have been pointing out, quite rightly, that tens of thousands of people were dying.

‘The Prime Minister made a decision in that meeting to trigger a second lockdown. He made a subsequent decision to trigger a third lockdown. This is a Prime Minister who was in hospital himself, in intensive care.

‘The idea that he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind.’

Mr Gove added: ‘These decisions are never easy, but the Government made the decision, and the Prime Minister made the decision, to have a second and third lockdown, and I think we can see the evidence of the leadership that he showed.’

Nadine Dorries, the mental health minister, said the quote claim was a lie – ‘not one named source or substantiated fact’. She tweeted that it was ‘vexatious coordinated gossip given in order to negatively influence the outcome’ of the May elections.

Mr Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson said the Prime Minister ‘may well have’ made the ‘tasteless’ remark about allowing dead bodies to pile up but suggested the row would not damage him.

Mr Gimson told Sky News: ‘In some ways it will strengthen his reputation as a man who talks as a man in the pub would, not in the prissy way that some members of the political class think one should always talk about terrible things like the pandemic.’

Last night sources close to Mr Gove said he was very clear the PM did not say the alleged remark.

Tory HQ paid flat bill: Money trail gets murkier as party says it stumped up £58,000 in July 

By Simon Walters and Jason Groves for the Daily Mail  

Boris Johnson‘s claim to have paid for the lavish makeover of his Downing Street flat faced fresh scrutiny last night after it was confirmed Tory HQ paid the £58,000 bill nine months ago.

Conservative chiefs are understood to have secretly approved the payment to the Cabinet Office in July.

The payment, confirmed to the Mail yesterday by Cabinet Office sources, undermines the PM’s insistence that he paid the bill himself.

Downing Street has refused to deny reports that Mr Johnson secured a loan from a Tory donor – believed to be financier Lord Brownlow – to pay for the decor.

Whitehall sources last night told the Mail that Mr Johnson may now be forced to publicly declare exactly how the costly refurbishment was funded.

Boris Johnson, pictured with fiancee Carrie Symonds, may have to declare how the costly refurb was paid for

Boris Johnson, pictured with fiancee Carrie Symonds, may have to declare how the costly refurb was paid for

One source said further details were likely to be revealed in an updated register of ministerial interests, which could be released as early as this week. 

But Mr Johnson first has to appoint a new adviser on ministerial standards – a post that has been vacant since Sir Alex Allen resigned in November in protest at the PM’s refusal to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel over bullying allegations.

The appointment was due to be announced last week but the preferred candidate is said to be ‘wobbling’ about whether to accept the post.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case yesterday confirmed Mr Johnson had wanted to set up a charitable trust more than 12 months ago to pay for the flat’s refit. But he said it was now clear that it would be illegal for a charitable trust to pay for the upkeep of private quarters.

He refused to say whether political donations had been accepted to help fund the project.

Mr Johnson also ducked the question yesterday, telling reporters: ‘If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.’ 

There is a labyrinthine money trail used for the cost of the £58,000 renovations (pictured)

There is a labyrinthine money trail used for the cost of the £58,000 renovations (pictured)

The Cabinet Office informed parliament on Friday that the PM has now paid the bill for his renovations. A senior Tory told the Mail he had been forced to take out a loan to settle the bill.

Mr Johnson’s sister Rachel yesterday defended the overhaul of the ‘light and airy’ flat shared by the PM and his fiancee Carrie Symonds. ‘They have a baby about to turn one and maybe it needed some spiffing up,’ she said.

The latest disclosures add another layer to the labyrinthine money trail used to meet the cost of the refurbishment. 

It is thought that the Cabinet Office, which oversees building work in Downing Street, forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle.

This newspaper revealed this month that Lord Brownlow paid the Tory Party £58,000 as a ‘donation’ to cover the sum it had paid for the refit. If, as Downing Street now says, Mr Johnson has paid the bill, there would appear to be two possible ways of doing so. 

Either Lord Brownlow’s ‘donation’ to Tory HQ in October has been turned into a ‘loan’ to the PM.

Or Mr Johnson has reimbursed £58,000 to Party funds to cover the payment Lord Brownlow made to it in October, which in turn was to cover the payment made last July to the Cabinet Office by Tory HQ.

If, as some insiders are speculating, Lord Brownlow’s ‘donation’ has become a ‘loan’ to Mr Johnson, the Party will face calls to reveal who authorised this. 

It is thought the Cabinet Office forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle

It is thought the Cabinet Office forwarded the money from Tory HQ to the contractors, including upmarket designer Lulu Lytle

Critics may argue that in such hypothetical circumstances, the ‘loan’ is tantamount to being a Tory ‘donation’ in a different guise. The Electoral Commission watchdog is still in talks with the Tory Party to establish if it complied with strict rules on the use of party funds and donations.

When the Mail first revealed the scandal, Mr Johnson’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton said: ‘Conservative Party funds are not being used to pay for any refurbishment of the Downing Street estate.’ 

Asked whether donors had been encouraged to pay for the refurbishment, Miss Stratton said any donations would be declared through the Electoral Commission, the House of Commons’ register of members’ interests, or in ministerial transparency declarations. No such declarations have yet been made. 

A Conservative Party spokesman said: ‘All reportable donations to the Conservative Party are correctly declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law.

‘Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in Government transparency returns.’

Lord Brownlow did not respond to a request for comment.

‘That’s bull****’: Boris Johnson texted Dominic Cummings denying allegations that he revealed details of second lockdown, it is claimed 

By Simon Walters and Martin Beckford for the Daily Mail  

Boris Johnson texted Dominic Cummings to say allegations that he was the ‘chatty rat’ who revealed details of the second lockdown were ‘bull****’, it was claimed last night.

It came as Britain’s top civil servant admitted that the person responsible for the leak may never be found.

The Prime Minister is said to have sent a text message to Mr Cummings, his former No10 chief of staff, to put him in the clear.

Boris Johnson texted Dominic Cummings to say allegations that he was the 'chatty rat' who revealed details of the second lockdown were 'bull****', it was claimed last night

Boris Johnson texted Dominic Cummings to say allegations that he was the ‘chatty rat’ who revealed details of the second lockdown were ‘bull****’, it was claimed last night

Mr Cummings also reportedly received a text absolving him of culpability from Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who is said to have told him that he authorised the Downing Street press office to say he was not the ‘chatty rat’.

Mr Case told MPs yesterday that the leak inquiry is still ongoing, almost six months on, and has not yet identified the culprit. He insisted that Mr Johnson had been determined to find the leaker, however, after Mr Cummings claimed the Prime Minister had considered blocking the probe.

The leak inquiry was triggered last autumn after newspapers were tipped off – by a source later dubbed a ‘chatty rat’ – that new Covid restrictions were being considered. It forced Mr Johnson to announce the national lockdown earlier than planned in a press conference late on October 31.

At the time, he told Tory MPs: ‘Let me assure you that the leak was not a No10 briefing and indeed we have launched an inquiry to catch the culprit.’

But when asked about the progress of the Cabinet Office investigation yesterday, Mr Case told MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: ‘What I can say is the investigation is ongoing and this is a clear indication that the source or sources haven’t been identified.

The Prime Minister is said to have sent a text message to Mr Cummings, his former No10 chief of staff, to put him in the clear

The Prime Minister is said to have sent a text message to Mr Cummings, his former No10 chief of staff, to put him in the clear

In this file photo taken on September 3, 2019, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings leave from the rear of Downing Street in central London, before heading to the Houses of Parliament

In this file photo taken on September 3, 2019, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings leave from the rear of Downing Street in central London, before heading to the Houses of Parliament

‘In the time that has now passed, I think it is probable the team will not successfully identify the source or sources but work is ongoing.’

He said he hoped the investigation would be finished within ‘weeks rather than months’.

Questioned on whether the Government had actually wanted to find out who had been behind the damaging leak, he insisted: ‘I think there was widespread anger not only in Government but beyond this leak that related to a vital part of our Covid response. Certainly from the outset the Prime Minister, other ministers, teams and everybody was determined to try and find out who was responsible.’

Asked if any investigations had been stopped because the outcome could have been embarrassing, Mr Case said: ‘No, in relation to this particular leak and others, the Prime Minister has always been clear, very determined to see these inquiries complete.’

He also denied the inquiry had been kicked into the long grass, saying: ‘I can assure you that this hasn’t been de-prioritised in any way, but as you picked up these things are incredibly complicated, complex inquiries, usually with a range of threads to them.’

However, he admitted the leak was not a crime, as it was judged to be neither a breach of the Official Secrets Act nor the offence of misconduct in public office.

He would not say if MI5 had been involved in the investigation.

And Mr Case repeatedly declined to comment on Mr Cummings’s claim that he had been exonerated of being the ‘chatty rat’.

The Cabinet Secretary replied: ‘I am constrained in what I can say because it’s in the context of an ongoing investigation.’

Asked if it was acceptable for him to have appeared before the committee but refused to answer questions, he said: ‘I’m afraid it’s necessary to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation, and the techniques involved.’

He said the Government Security Group, which oversees physical and cyber security across Whitehall, had advised he should not provide detail on the leak inquiry. But he confirmed Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle had been given an update on it in recent weeks. 

Boris Johnson buys a painting of himself and his family at Chequers – using PayPal 

Amateur artist Mary Casserley painted his official country residence in the style of a pre-war railway poster

Amateur artist Mary Casserley painted his official country residence in the style of a pre-war railway poster

A painting of Boris Johnson and his family at Chequers has been snapped up by the PM – using PayPal.

Amateur artist Mary Casserley painted his official country residence in the style of a pre-war railway poster. She then sent him a copy ‘on a whim’ and received a handwritten reply asking if the work was for sale.

Miss Casserley said: ‘I don’t normally sell originals but I do some commissions for £425. Everyone’s said they hoped I charged him a lot of money and I said no, I charged him the same price.’

Steam train enthusiast Miss Casserley, 54, painted the picture at the kitchen table of her former home in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. 

Called Chequers Court, it shows Carrie Symonds having a picnic on the lawn with son Wilfred, with her besuited fiance approaching them with Dilyn the dog.

The PM sent his reply within days and, after silence for a few months, the artist chased up his office and the sale went through two months ago.

Payment was made by Mr Johnson’s long-standing personal assistant, Ann Sindall, via PayPal.

A painting of Boris Johnson and his family at Chequers has been snapped up by the PM – using PayPal

A painting of Boris Johnson and his family at Chequers has been snapped up by the PM – using PayPal

 

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