PM cannot be expected to ‘live in a skip’, says Michael Gove’s wife

Downing Street (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)
10:16am, Wed 28 Apr 2021
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Boris Johnson “can’t be expected to live in a skip”, the wife of Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said.

Sarah Vine said the Prime Minister must live “to a certain standard” and that it is “perfectly reasonable” for him to want to change the colour of his sofa.

Prime ministers are allocated a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested Mr Johnson has spent up to £200,000 on the changes.

According to the Daily Mail, Mr Johnson told aides he could not afford the revamp of his Downing Street flat as the costs started to spiral.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Wire)

The newspaper reported that he had said the cost was “totally out of control” and that his fiancee Carrie Symonds was “buying gold wallpaper”.

The company Soane, co-founded by Lulu Lytle and said to have been commissioned by Ms Symonds, has wallpaper on its website in “old gold” and “yellow gold”.

Mr Johnson has previously suggested he has made sacrifices for the good of the country because he could earn more money outside politics.

At the Tory leadership hustings in 2019, he said: “It is obviously possible to make more money by not being a full-time politician.”

After quitting the Cabinet over Brexit in 2018, Mr Johnson resumed his Daily Telegraph column for which he was paid £275,000 annually, and commanded huge fees as a corporate speaker, with one event earning him £42,580.

If he (Boris Johnson) wants to have a pink sofa instead of a green sofa, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing for him to want

Ms Vine, a Daily Mail columnist said someone needs to “bite the bullet” and say that a fund is needed to ensure “decent furnishings” at Downing Street.

She told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “The thing about the whole No 10 refurbishment thing is that the Prime Minister can’t be expected to live in a skip.

“He has to live to a certain standard and the problem with all of these political things like this is that no-one is ever prepared to bite the bullet.

“No-one is ever prepared to say ‘look, this building does need to be maintained, there do need to be decent furnishings, we do need to have a fund that pays for it, let’s just do it’.”

Michael Gove and Sarah Vine (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

Ms Vine said Mr Johnson is “working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to run the country which is quite a difficult job to do”.

She added: “If he wants to have a pink sofa instead of a green sofa, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing for him to want.”

While she does not think the taxpayer should fund such work, she said a “transparent” arrangement for refurbishment is the way forward.

She told Today: “I think if it was just very transparent and simple, and it was a trust or whatever, and it was clear what the situation was and there was a clear budget, say £30,000 a year or whatever it is, or when there’s a new incumbent there’s a one-off payment that enables you to change the curtains, I think that would be very clear and very simple.”

She said this approach would mean “my husband wouldn’t have to cancel all his very important NHS procurement meetings on an afternoon to go and answer an urgent question about curtains”.

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