Boris Johnson’s flat renovation being scrutinised by electoral watchdog

Body believes there are ‘reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have occurred’

Boris Johnson faces Labour leader Keir Starmer during prime minister’s questions. Photograph: PRU/AFP via Getty

Boris Johnson faces Labour leader Keir Starmer during prime minister’s questions. Photograph: PRU/AFP via Getty

 

Britain’s Electoral Commission is investigating how a refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat was funded because “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.

At prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson refused three times to say if the Conservative Party or its donors had initially paid a £58,000 bill for the renovations.

“The investigation will determine whether any transactions relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the commission and whether such funding was reported as required,” the commission said. 

Incoming prime ministers receive a £30,000 allowance to redecorate the flat above 11 Downing Street but must themselves cover any cost above that sum. Mr Johnson and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, commissioned a lavish makeover costing almost £90,000, and his former aide Dominic Cummings claims that the prime minister wanted to get Conservative donors to secretly fund the excess cost.

The government said last week that the prime minister had now paid the extra £58,000 but has not denied that the Conservative Party or its donors initially paid the bill, which Mr Johnson only reimbursed later. Ministers are obliged to report any benefit they receive from private entities, including loans.

“We have been in contact with the Conservative Party since late March and have conducted an assessment of the information they have provided to us,” the commission said. “We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.”

Stench of sleaze

Cabinet secretary Simon Case told MPs this week that Mr Johnson had asked him to conduct a review of how the renovation was funded. On Wednesday, Downing Street said the new independent adviser on ministerial interests, Christopher Geidt, a former private secretary to Queen Elizabeth, was conducting his own investigation into the affair.

Labour said a stench of sleaze was engulfing the Conservatives and called on the government to immediately publish the register of ministers’ interests.

“It is welcome that the Electoral Commission is set to investigate the series of murky revelations around the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat,” said shadow democracy minister Cat Smith. “No stone should be left unturned to get to the bottom of who’s funding the prime minister’s luxury lifestyle, and what they could be expecting in return. If the Conservatives want to do something about the stench of sleaze engulfing them, they must co-operate fully with the Electoral Commission and publish the paper trail and any invoices relating to this matter.”

During prime minister’s questions, Labour leader Keir Starmer also pressed Mr Johnson about reports that he said he would prefer to allow bodies to pile high in their thousands rather than introduce a third coronavirus lockdown. When the prime minister denied ever saying those words, Mr Starmer, who is a former director of public prosecutions, said that someone was not telling the truth.

“The house will have heard the prime minister’s answer, and I remind him that the ministerial code says: ‘Ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation’. I will leave it there for now,” he said.