Boris Johnson is considering setting up a charity funded by Tory donors to help pay for the refurbishment of his flat in Downing Street, it is being claimed.
The controversial proposal, which has emerged amid allegations of a costly makeover by his fiancée Carrie Symonds, is said to be based on a scheme used by the White House.
The Washington charity, bankrolled by private donors, raises millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art and the Downing Street version would be funded by Tory benefactors.
The official purpose of the PM’s proposed charity, according a report in the Daily Mail, is to raise funds to preserve Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street for the nation on heritage grounds.
But insiders told the paper another factor is the soaring cost of a makeover by Ms Symonds of the larger flat above No 11, which has been lived in by all recent prime ministers since Tony Blair in 1997.
And Mr Johnson is risking a huge political row by potentially exposing himself to claims of a conflict of interest if the charity is seen as a back-door way of providing him with a financial benefit.
Responding to the Daily Mail’s report, a No 10 spokesman told Sky News: “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.”
Defending the charity plan, an ally of Mr Johnson told the Mail: “Downing Street is as iconic as Windsor Castle but is in danger of becoming tatty because the Civil Service does everything on the cheap.
“A new charity with privately raised money to preserve it in great shape for all time is great value for the taxpayer and a great idea.”
According to the paper, Mr Johnson has asked multi-millionaire financier and Tory peer Lord Brownlow, who is said to have close links with the Royal Family, to run the charity and an application to register it with the Charity Commission is planned.
Most incoming Prime Ministers carry out refurbishment or modernisation of their Downing Street accommodation and work on the No 11 flat is believed to have been completed in recent months.
But the Daily Mail claims Mr Johnson has expressed concern at the rising cost and said there was “no way” he could pay for it after being informed by the Cabinet Office that the most taxpayers would pay was around £30,000.
After being told by aides that asking Tory donors to pay was unethical, the PM was advised that the most practical and ethical way to secure extra financial help was a charitable fund, the paper claims.
Its purpose would be to maintain not just the No 11 flat, but also other parts of Downing Street, including the state rooms, so it could be presented as having a wider heritage purpose that would benefit future prime ministers.
According to the Daily Mail, Mr Johnson has complained the cost of the refurbishment by his fiancée was out of control, amounting to “tens and tens of thousands” or even “over a hundred grand”.
The paper claims he told one government minister he was particularly alarmed by the cost of wallpaper chosen by Miss Symonds, saying she appeared to have ordered “gold wall coverings”.
But according to the Mail, friends of Miss Symonds deny she has been extravagant.
“The makeover is appropriate for a building of such huge importance,” one friend was quoted as saying. “Carrie has exquisite taste. It is classic, stunning, stylish and chic. She should be congratulated not criticised.”