Downing Street is trying to set up a charity that could cover the costs of the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s flat, which he shares with his fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
A No 10 spokesman would not deny reports in the Daily Mail that the prime minister is attempting to set up a charity where benefactors can contribute to the upkeep of Downing Street.
Symonds is understood to have undertaken a substantial redecoration of the flat above No 11 that she shares with Johnson and their baby son, Wilfred. Johnson is known to have joked with Conservative MPs about the cost of the refurbishment.
According to the Mail, the purpose of the charitable fund would be to maintain not just the No 11 flat, but also other parts of Downing Street, including the state rooms, and could therefore be presented as having a wider heritage purpose.
It was reported to be modelled on a similar scheme used by the White House to raise money for interior design and restyling the building, which is bankrolled by private donors.
By tradition, incoming US presidents and their families are allowed to spend $100,000 on redecorating the White House, and the first lady takes an active part in the White House Endowment Trust, which maintains the fabric of the building.
Symonds, who used to be the Conservative party’s head of communications, but no longer holds an official role, has proved a controversial figure in Johnson’s administration.
When Johnson’s most senior aide Dominic Cummings and director of communications Lee Cain left their roles in Downing Street in November last year, it was widely reported that she had played an instrumental role in their exit.
It followed claims the pair had been briefing against her, along with accusations that the attacks had been fuelled by misogyny.
There has also been speculation in the media as to how much influence Symonds has over the prime minister’s policymaking on a range of issues she cares about deeply, such as the environment and ending the premature release of rapists and murderers.
Last month, the conservative thinktank the Bow Group called for an independent inquiry into her “possible influence” in government. Downing Street said it was “incorrect” to say Symonds plays a central role.
The Mail said work on the No 11 flat is believed to have been completed in recent months, after going on for more than a year and facing disruption due to the pandemic.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The Downing Street complex is a working building, as well as containing two ministerial residences. As has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishments and maintenance are made periodically.
“Matters concerning works on the Downing Street estate, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.”