The Electoral Commission has launched a formal investigation into the renovations made by Boris Johnson and Carrie Simmonds to their Number 11 Downing Street flat.
An assessment has been conducted on the information provided by the Conservative Party in the last month, leading to the Electoral Commission’s statement that there are “reasonable grounds to suspect” an offence has occurred. It added that “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.”
Prime ministers are permitted a yearly budget of up to £30,000 to renovate their Downing Street residence, but there are suggestions that up to £200,000 has been spent.
During PMQs Sir Keir Starmer interrogated Mr Johnson on the issue, asking him to account for the renovations, and reminding him that he is required to declare loans and credit arrangements that relate to his political activities within 28 days. The PMQ was noticeably tense as Mr Johnson sidestepped most of the questions asked by Sir Keir, SNP’s Ian Blackford, and backbench MPs while criticising Labours’ attacks as “bizarre”.
Starmer described the government as being “mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal” while Johnson attacked the interrogation on the grounds that the public was more concerned about “serious questions” regarding the pandemic than the renovations. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, also refused to comment on whether a minister who is found to have broken electoral law should resign, saying that the questions should “concentrate on the big things that really matter.”
Mr Johnson stated that he “personally” paid for the renovations, but did not answer as to whether he received an initial loan from the Conservative Party.
A spokeswoman for No 10 had previously said that the cost of renovations over the £30,000 allowance had been “met by the prime minister personally,” and that “Conservative Party funds are not being used for this.”
The interrogation has spiralled from Dominic Cummings claim last week that Johnson had told him of a plan last year to “have donors secretly pay for the renovation” to his No 11 residence. Scrutiny has grown over in recent days as the Commission has now announced its investigation, with officials potentially being ordered to hand over emails and messages. The Commission can also issue fines of up to £20,000 under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
There is apparent frustration, however, among Senior Labour figures at the focus of the Commission on the Conservative Party rather than Johnson. Downing Street also admitted that the Prime Minister has the power to prevent both probes and exonerate himself and his ministers, a fact that has prompted expressions of concern from former civil servants.