Who is Lord Brownlow? How Tory donor made his millions to afford Downing Street renovation

Josh Buckland on Boris Johnson's future with tax and energy hikes

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Downing Street will likely be wishing for a calmer, more peaceful 2022 as last year the Prime Minister was rocked by a number of scandals that nearly saw him out of office. But just as the new year begins, Boris Johnson has found himself rocked by the revelation that he agreed to consider proposals for a new festival in private messages with a Tory donor who helped fund the redecoration of his Downing Street home.

Lord Brownlow provided almost £60,000 to the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson for their £112,000 refurbishment project, which Mr Johnson originally claimed he had paid for personally.

The Electoral Commission investigated the matter, which ruled in 2021 that the Tories had broken electoral laws – resulting in a £17,800 fine.

A separate investigation by Mr Johnson’s standards adviser Christopher Geidt found he did not “deliberately mislead”.

But the Prime Minister is now facing renewed criticism after messages between Lord Brownlow and the Prime Minister were published on Thursday evening.

READ MORE: Boris sorry for failing to disclose messages about flat decoration

WhatsApp messages show Mr Johnson discussed the proposal for a new festival, proposed to be called the ‘Great Exhibition 2.0’, with Lord Brownlow at the same time as requesting his help with the £112,000 revamp of his official residence in Downing Street.

The conversation led to a meeting between the peer and then culture secretary, Oliver Dowden.

Downing Street said the proposal for Great Exhibition 2.0 was not taken forward, but the government is going ahead with Festival UK, which was first announced in 2018, later this year.

The revealed exchange has forced the Prime Minister into providing a “humble and sincere” apology for failing to disclose the messages to Lord Geidt at the time of the investigation.

Who is Lord Brownlow?

Lord Brownlow is a British entrepreneur, philanthropist and life peer in the House of Lords, which he gained from former Tory prime minister Theresa May when she resigned in 2019.

He previously served as Vice Chairman of Conservative party between 2017 and 2020.

He is ranked the 521st richest person in the UK, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, and has donated almost £3 million to the Conservatives.

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He has also donated considerable amounts to projects and charities supported by Prince Charles.

Born in Liverpool, he studied economics at Newcastle Polytechnic, before serving as a police officer in Slough for two years.

He then became a recruitment consultant and went on to co-found the firm Huntswood.

In 2013 he co-founded private equity firm Havisham, through which he has invested more than £20 million in a wide range of property, travel, fashion and hospitality businesses.

But the cash he gave to help the Johnsons refurbish their Downing Street home is not the first time he’s forked out on behalf of a Prime Minister.

Via Havisham Assets Limited, Brownlow is also one of the biggest investors in Cefinn, an upmarket fashion label founded by Samantha Cameron, wife of former prime minister David Cameron.

At the time, Cefinn was losing more than £500,000 a year when Brownlow took a 10 percent stake in 2018, at the head of an investment totalling £2.6 million.

He said at the time: “I am joining the company in part because I like the management team.

“I thought they were very energetic and enthusiastic. I like the creative direction of the business. I am joining because it’s a business I like and I want to help it grow.”

He also gave cash to Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency office, and donated £100,000 to the pro-remain Stronger In campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

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