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Boris Johnson is facing yet more political pressure, this time over whether he misled an investigation into a donation for Downing Street flat refurbishments, after contacted a Tory donor to 'ask for more money'.
The Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party £17,800 over the donation by Tory peer Lord Brownlow to help cover the costly renovations to No 11 Downing Street.
Johnson's wife, Carrie Johnson, is believed to have chosen £850-a-roll gold wallpaper by top designer Lulu Lytle, who co-founded exclusive decorating company Soane Britain, for the refurb.
Brownlow, who has an estimated £271m fortune, has donated nearly £3m to the Conservatives and served as vice-chairman of the party between July 2017 and July 2020.
He was handed a peerage by former PM Theresa May in her resignation honours’ list in 2019.
The Electoral Commissions said the Tories had failed to “accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record” of the money handed over by Brownlow in October 2020.
Ministerial standards adviser Lord Geidt was told by the PM he did not know who was behind the flat refurbishment until February 2021, just before reports emerged in the media.
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But the Electoral Commission saw evidence that Johnson had sent the peer a WhatsApp message in November 2020 “asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence”, to which he agreed.
Should Geidt say that he was lied to, there could be significant pressure for Johnson to resign.
Downing Street insisted Johnson had not lied to ministerial standards adviser Geidt despite telling him he had know knowledge of the payments until immediately prior to media reports in February.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the prime minister should now explain why he “lied” by saying he did not know who was behind the payment to the standards adviser.
Rayner said: “It is right that the Electoral Commission has fined the Conservative Party but the prime minister must now explain why he lied to the British public saying he didn’t know who was behind No 11 flat refurb – all the while he was WhatsApping the donor asking for more money.
“Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He’s not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers.”
Labour MP Liz Twist said the report was “yet another example of this government not wanting play by the same rules as everyone else”, while shadow business minister Bill Esterton said Johnson must “explain why he lied to the British public”.
Stephen Farry, the deputy leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party, added: “Another day, another lie from Boris Johnson exposed.”
The prime minister’s official spokesman denied Johnson had lied and insisted he has “acted in accordance with the rules at all times” and has “made all necessary declarations”.
Downing Street’s defence amounted to Johnson not knowing that Brownlow was providing the money to the “blind trust” he was organising.
“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,” the official spokesman said.
The Electoral Commission report said the Tories had repeatedly said the money had not been a donation but had been described as “a donation to the prime minister via the party”, a “ministerial matter”, the repayment of a loan, and at one stage a “gift to the nation”.
The refurbishments to the flat above No 11 sparked sustained scrutiny of Johnson’s finances, with the works vastly exceeding the £30,000 annual limit afforded to the prime minister.
And the Electoral Commission investigation – which took in more than 2,400 pages of evidence – found that the party failed to fully report a donation of £67,801.72 from Huntswood Associates Limited, whose director is Brownlow, in October 2020, including £52,801.72 connected to the costs of refurbishment.
The commission report added: “The party also made statements to the commission which were not supported by the evidence subsequently obtained.”
The Tories said they were considering whether to appeal against the fine.
A party spokesman said: “We have been in constant contact with the Electoral Commission with regards to this matter and have sought their advice as to how the transaction should be reported since it was made.”
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