Boris Johnson has claimed no rules were broken during the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat just hours after the Electoral Commission launched an investigation into who initially paid for the works.
The Electoral Commission said today there were “reasonable grounds” to “suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred” and the investigation is believed to be into the Conservative party.
The cost of the £58,000 flat refurbishment was paid by Johnson, however it was only after a loan from the Conservative party.
It is believed the original cost came from an undisclosed donation to the party – a potential breach of Electoral Commission rules.
The body has the ability to give out a fine of £20,000 it finds a breach occurred.
When asked by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) if he believes he broke Electoral Commission rules, Johnson told MPs: “No I don’t.
“What I believe has been strained to breaking point is the credulity of the public… when I have told him umpteen times I have paid for it.”
Starmer asked Johnson on three occasions who paid the initial invoice of the works.
The Prime Minister refused to answer the question on three occasions.
Johnson said he had “covered the costs” and that “most people will find it absolutely bizarre that he is focusing on this issue”.
Starmer slammed Johnson for the saga, saying that Johnson’s government was mired in “sleaze, cronyism and scandal”.
He said: “What do we get from this Prime Minister of this Conservative government?
“Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access and who’s at the heart of it? The Prime Minister – major sleaze sitting there.”
In a statement released just an hour before PMQs, the Electoral Commission announced the investigation into the flat refurbishment.
“We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred,” it said.
“We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson today told journalists that the probe was into the Tory party and not Johnson.
“This is a specific matter for the Conservative party as a party,” they said.
“They’ll provide all necessary information to assist the commission, the Prime Minister hasn’t been asked for specific information, but if he is the govt will be happy to assist with that.”
It comes as Lord Christopher Geidt was today announced as the government’s new adviser on ministerial interests, after his predecessor Sir Alex Allan quit over anger that Priti Patel wasn’t sacked for her role in bullying civil servants.
The Daily Mail reports that the money for the loan came through a donation by Lord David Brownlow – the very same man cabinet secretary Simon Case said was being considered as the inaugural head of a future Downing Street trust.
It is a requirement by law that all party political donations are disclosed through the Electoral Commission, however the flat refurbishment costs were never recorded.
One Tory MP told City A.M. yesterday that the saga was an example of “stupidity and secrecy”.
The Prime Minister’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton was questioned about the cost of the flat last month and said on multiple occasions that “Conservative Party funds are not being used to pay for any refurbishment of the Downing Street estate”.
This now appears to be untrue.
When asked on multiple occasions if Stratton had misled journalists at the time, Johnson’s official spokesman yesterday refused to answer.
“All I will do is point to the fact that the Prime Minister has paid for the wider refurbishment personally,” he said.
Prime ministers receive £30,000 of public money each year to decorate their flat, however they are required to bear the cost of any further yearly upgrades.
It has been widely reported that the driver of the extra cost of the flat refurbishment was Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds.
Symonds reportedly described Theresa May’s previous set-up as a “John Lewis nightmare”.
She instead bought in furniture and interiors from boutique designer brands, which included wallpaper that costed £800 a roll.