What do we know about the Chequers Estate and how does it link to Boris Johnson and his recent U-turn over whether to self-isolate?
What is Chequers?
The public-owned estate is in Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, within England’s rolling Chiltern hills. The house features an indoor heated swimming pool and sits within 1,500 acres of gardens.
Chequers lies 41 miles from the prime minister’s other residency, 10 Downing Street.
Colonel Sir Arthur Lee and his wife Ruth donated the newly restored Chequers estate in 1917 following talks with then-prime minister David Lloyd George.
Lee noted a new type of politician was emerging, one without a large country home in which to entertain foreign dignitaries.
Ministers were encouraged to live at Chequers at weekends because “the better the health of our rulers the more sanely will they rule”.
David Lloyd George was the first prime minister to make use of it, in 1921.
Chequers is run and managed by an independent trust and is maintained by an endowment administered by the trustees.
The trust also receives an annual grant from public funds towards maintenance and staffing. This amounted to £882,000 in 2018/19. The building isn’t open to the public, however.
Chequers during the First World War
Like many other large buildings in the UK, Chequers was used as a hospital during the First World War and a convalescent home for officers.
The house features a stained-glass window commissioned by Sir Arthur Lee, with the inscription: “This house of peace and ancient memories was given to England as an offering for her deliverance in the great war of 1914 to 1918 and as a place of rest and recreation for her prime ministers for ever.”
Who else has been spotted at the estate?
The phrase ‘Chequers Plan’ dominated headlines in 2018 when then-prime minister Theresa May negotiated Brexit proposals with MPs there.
As well as political figures such as former US presidents Richard Nixon and Donald Trump and current Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Chequers has also hosted music celebrities such as Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and Elton John.
What is the current link between Chequers and Boris Johnson?
Chequers hit the headlines again when Boris Johnson retreated to the safety of its grounds to recover from covid-19 last year.
But now Boris is back there after he was pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app. Ironically, Health Secretary Sajid Javid contracted coronavirus and, despite initially avoiding it, Johnson will now have to self-isolate for ten days.
After facing a backlash from the public after initially announcing he would not isolate despite receiving the NHS notification, the MP is now under further scrutiny regarding whether he broke travel restrictions to reach Chequers.
Johnson tweeted: “Like so many people I’ve been pinged by NHS Test and Trace as I have been in contact with someone with covid-19, and I will be self-isolating until Monday, 26 July.”
Leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer has written to the PM claiming many unanswered questions remain.
Starmer said the situation was another example of ministers believing there is “one rule for them and another for everyone else”.
He added: “Let’s be clear: Boris Johnson and (chancellor of the exchequer) Rishi Sunak only went into isolation because they were busted.”
Boris Johnson’s spokesman was quick to defend the PM, saying he did abide by covid-19 restrictions. He added: “The prime minister followed the correct process. He was contacted by NHS Test and Trace and has isolated.”