An official investigation has been launched into how lavish home improvements at the prime minister’s Downing Street flat were funded.
The Electoral Commission which regulates political and electoral finance said it was satisfied that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”. The watchdog released the bombshell statement less than an hour before Mr Johnson was due to face an onslaught from MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The row centres over a luxury makeover for the PM’s official flat, which he shares with his fiancee Carrie Symonds and their baby son Wilf. There has been speculation the bill was as much as £200,000, despite the fact the prime minister only receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to spend on the flat.
No10 insists the Prime Minister footed the bill himself, however, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings claimed the prime minister had planned to have donors “secretly pay” for the work on his flat.
Mr Johnson reportedly told aides he could not afford the revamp as costs spiralled “totally out of control”, as his fiancee was “buying gold wallpaper”. The company Soane, co-founded by Lulu Lytle and said to have been commissioned by Ms Symonds, has wallpaper on its website in “old gold” and “yellow gold”.
Mr Cummings said this had been “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended”.
Labour wants the prime minister to reveal the full amount spent and who paid in the first place. Government minister Lord True said, on Friday, 23 April: “Any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the prime minister personally”.
But money for the work was reportedly advanced to the prime minister – either as a donation or a loan – which he later paid back.
Asked whether he had ever discussed using donations to pay for refurbishments, Mr Johnson said: “If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.”
If the prime minister accepted money for the refurbishment, he would be expected to make that public. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said that any contributions “should have been declared by now”.
He added: “If business people have funded the upgrade of his flat then… we need to know if those business people have an interest in government policy, whether they have an interest in procuring government contracts.”
An email sent to Tory party chairman Ben Elliot in October, reported by the Mail, showed Tory, donor, Lord Brownlow said he had given £58,000 to cover payments “the party has already made”.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “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.
“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.
“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.”
A No10 spokesperson said on Tuesday: “Any costs of the wider refurbishment this year beyond those provided by the annual allowance have been met by the Prime Minister personally. “Conservative Party funds are not being used for this.”