Labour accuses Johnson of lying over Downing Street flat refurbishment

Electoral commission suggests PM may have misled ethics adviser over funding of flat

Labour has accused Boris Johnson of lying over the funding of a lavish refurbishment of his private flat in Downing Street after the electoral commission suggested the prime minister may have misled his independent ethics adviser Christopher Geidt.

During an inquiry into the affair earlier this year, Mr Johnson told Lord Geidt that he was not aware until February 2021 that a Conservative party donor had paid for part of the refurbishment.

But an investigation by the electoral commission found that the prime minister sent a WhatsApp message to the donor, David Brownlow, asking him to authorise "further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence". Mr Johnson eventually settled the refurbishment bill himself but the electoral commission on Thursday fined the Conservative party £17,800 for not reporting the donations correctly.

"Our investigation into the Conservative Party found that the laws around the reporting and recording of donations were not followed," the commission's director of regulation Louise Edwards said.

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“We know that voters have concerns about the transparency of funding of political parties. Reporting requirements are in place so that the public can see where money is coming from, inaccurate reporting risks undermining trust in the system. The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems.”

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to the parliamentary commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone, calling for an investigation into Mr Johnson's conduct.

“The prime minister must now explain why he lied to the British public saying he didn’t know who was behind the No11 flat refurb – all the while he was WhatsApping the donor asking for more money. Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He’s not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers,” Ms Rayner said.

Downing Street insisted that the prime minister acted in accordance with the rules and made all the declarations about the refurbishment he was required to file. The renewed controversy over the flat refurbishment came as it emerged that cabinet secretary Simon Case’s investigation into a Downing Street party on December 18th last year has been widened to include two other parties on government property that may have broken lockdown rules.

Backbench rebellion

The prime minister faces a Conservative backbench rebellion over new coronavirus measures announced this week aimed at slowing the spread of the Omicron variant. MPs have questioned the government’s credibility in telling people to restrict their behaviour after the revelations about last year’s parties in Downing Street.

Conservative MP Pauline Latham said she believed the prime minister announced the new measures on Wednesday evening in an effort to distract from the controversy over the Downing Street parties.

“It is shocking. And I think it’s inappropriate to do that. We’ve been told through this pandemic, we’re following the science. We don’t seem to be following it any more, and haven’t done for a very long time. And either we are following the science, and we know what’s going to happen, or we’re not. And we’re not doing that at the moment,” she told Times Radio.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times