Electoral Commission announces formal investigation into Boris Johnson's flat refurb

28 April 2021, 11:23 | Updated: 28 April 2021, 12:16

The electoral commission is investigating the refurbishment of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat
The electoral commission is investigating the refurbishment of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

A formal investigation will take place into the makeover of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat, the electoral commission has announced.

A spokesman for the watchdog 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.”

READ MORE: James O'Brien's revelation after PM accused of 'bodies piled high' comments

READ MORE: Boris Johnson 'told aides he could not afford the revamp of his Downing Street flat'

Facing questions about the flat renovations, Boris Johnson told MPs "I paid for the Downing Street refurbishment personally", adding "any further declaration that I have to make - if any - I will be advised upon by Lord Geidt", the new adviser on ministers' interests.

He appeared at Prime Minister's Questions for the first time since former aide Dominic Cummings accused him of wanting donors to "secretly pay" for the renovations in a "possibly illegal" move.

The Prime Minister also faces pressure over allegedly saying he would rather see "bodies pile high" than impose a third shutdown.

Downing Street has refused to say whether Mr Johnson received an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover renovations to his residence in No 11.

Labour has accused him of having "lied" over the funding, and accused senior members of the Government of a possible "cover-up".

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted a review into the controversy by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will answer whether the Tory party gave Mr Johnson a loan, before the Prime Minister paid back the costs.

Prime ministers get a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested Mr Johnson has spent up to £200,000.

It was also reported today that the PM told aides he was unable to afford the renovation work.

A No 10 spokeswoman has said that the costs "have been met by the Prime Minister personally" and that party funds "are not being used for this".

However, Downing Street has refused to answer whether party funds were used in the past, as the Electoral Commission looks into the controversy.

It is likely Mr Johnson will also face questioning over whether he said he was prepared to let "bodies pile high" rather than order a third shutdown, an accusation he has branded as "total rubbish" and one which has been denied by No 10.

But after the Daily Mail first reported the remarks, the BBC and ITV were among those to carry reports with their own sources confirming he made the comment in October.

Downing Street officials have been less firm on a Times report that Mr Johnson separately told aides in September he would rather let coronavirus "rip" than impose a second lockdown.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the reports "distort the actions" of Mr Johnson, but the defence did not amount to a denial.

The bombardment of allegations around the Prime Minister come as he is embroiled in a public row with Mr Cummings, who until last year was his senior adviser in No 10.

Mr Cummings hit out at his former boss in a blog post, saying he had fallen "below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves" after No 10 sources - reportedly the Prime Minister himself - accused him of being behind a series of leaks.