PM faces questions over whether he misled probe into Downing St flat refurb

9 December 2021, 14:29

Boris Johnson is accused of "lying" to the public over his Downing Street flat refurbishment.
Boris Johnson is accused of "lying" to the public over his Downing Street flat refurbishment. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Boris Johnson is facing serious questions over whether he misled an investigation into donations for refurbishments to his Downing Street flat after a watchdog fined the Tories £17,800.

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The investigation into the controversial redecoration of the PM's flat, undertaken by The Electoral Commission, found Mr Johnson personally asked for more funds for the work - despite claiming he knew nothing about any payments three months later.

The Conservative Party was fined £17,800 by the Electoral Commission on Thursday.

The watchdog said the party had failed to properly report the donation from Tory peer Lord Brownlow which paid for the refurb.

It uncovered that decisions relating to the handling and recording of the donation reflected "serious failings in the party's compliance systems".

The Tories are considering whether to launch an appeal against the fine.

Read more: Snap polling reveals half of Brits think Boris should quit over No10 Xmas party

The Electoral Commission's full report into the funding of the refurbishment suggests that Mr Johnson may have misled Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, when he gave evidence to the Geidt inquiry.

Lord Geidt said Mr Johnson told him he knew nothing about the payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.

But the Electoral Commission saw evidence that Mr Johnson had sent Lord Brownlow a WhatsApp message in November 2020 “asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence”, to which he agreed.

Downing Street has denied that the Prime Minister lied to Lord Geidt over knowledge that a Tory peer was behind the donations.

Asked if the Prime Minister lied to the adviser and the public, Mr Johnson's official spokesman replied: "No."

Read more: Fuming Tory MPs threaten revolt over Covid rules that order WFH but allow Xmas parties

He said that Lord Geidt remained in the role and that Mr Johnson continues to have full confidence in him.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said the Prime Minister must now explain why he "lied to the British public saying he did not know who was behind the Number 11 flat refurb".

She said his "sleaze if corroding the office of Prime Minister", and has called for Parliamentary Standards Commission Kathryn Stone to investigate Mr Johnson over the donations.

"It is one rule for them, and one rule for the rest of us, and Boris Johnson is at the heart of it," said Ms Rayner.

She claimed the PM has taken the British public for "fools" and has "made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers".

Read more: Pressure mounts on Met chief over decision not to investigate No10 party claims

Downing Street has argued Mr Johnson did not know Lord Brownlow was providing the money to a "blind trust" to donate funds.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "He was not aware of the details of the underlying donor.

"Lord Brownlow did not make a decision about becoming the person to cover the costs until after that exchange.

"Lord Brownlow was the chair of a blind trust and acted in accordance with his experience of managing blind trusts in that way, the Prime Minister's discussions with Lord Brownlow were done without him knowing the underlying donor of that donation."

Read more: Tory Party admits 'gathering' at HQ in December 2020 amid Downing Street Xmas party row

The spokesman said he was not aware of whether Lord Geidt was shown the WhatsApp exchanges between Mr Johnson and Lord Brownlow.

It is the latest in a series of scandals that have hit the government - and the PM - in recent weeks, including the ongoing row over whether No.10 staff held a Christmas Party last year in breach of lockdown rules.

A recent snap poll found that over half of Brits believe Mr Johnson should resign over the allegation of the No10 Christmas party, held in breach of Covid-19 restrictions.

Fifty-four per cent of those polled said Mr Johnson should resign, with a third of Conservative voters (33%) also saying the Prime Minister should quit.

It comes after No10 aides were seen laughing about a Christmas party, alleged to have been held on December 18 last year.

Allegra Stratton, one of the PM's aides who was seen joking around in the video, has since resigned, saying she will "regret" her remarks for the "rest of her days".