Electoral Commission says ‘reasonable grounds to suspect an offence’ on lavish Downing Street flat revamp

Joe Murphy and Nicholas Cecil
·3-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson’s lavish Downing Street flat redecoration may have broken funding laws, a watchdog said today.

In a bombshell statement, the Electoral Commission said it was mounting a formal investigation after studying answers given by the Conservative Party about what happened.

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.

“We will provide an update once the investigation is complete. We will not be commenting further until that point.”

The announcement is a devastating blow to Mr Johnson who has been fighting a rising tide of sleaze allegations.

It came as Labour turned up the heat on Mr Johnson’s reported £88,000 revamp of his flat as a Cabinet minister’s wife said: “The Prime Minister can’t be expected to live in a skip.”

The remark on BBC Radio 4’s Today by Sarah Vine, who is married to Michael Gove, drew a mocking response from shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth who said: “A John Lewis furnished flat is now living in a skip, apparently.”

Mr Johnson and fiancée Carrie Symonds are reported to have felt the decor they inherited from Theresa May was “a John Lewis nightmare”.

They are claimed to have spent at least £88,000 and up to £200,000 on a lavish redecoration of the grace and favour apartment above 11 Downing Street.

The Prime Minister announced earlier this week he has now paid £58,000 from his own pocket.

But No 10 is refusing to say if reports are true that Tory donor Lord Brownlow initially paid the £58,000 via the Conservative Party, with the taxpayer funding £30,000.

The PM could face a censure from the Commons if he is found to have accepted a loan or gift without declaring it in the Register of MPs’ Interests.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the spending by asserting that Labour had spent over £400,000 on revamps at No 10 and No 11 Downing Street when they were in power.

But one former senior minister said Gordon Brown spent almost nothing on the flat above No 10, saying: “The sitting room was the same as in Mrs Thatcher’s day when Alistair Darling left in 2010.”

Sir Keir Starmer sought to turn up the heat on Mr Johnson ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions, with Labour vowing “not to rest” until he has answered questions over how the lavish revamp of his Downing Street flat was funded.

Mr Brown told Sky News the key issue was that a sitting Prime Minister had to be open.

“Any gifts the Prime Minister receives have got to be registered so he is not beholden to anyone,” he said.

Lobbying of senior minsters also had to be declared to officials, Mr Brown added. “We cannot have this impression going that some people have got access to government and other people don’t ... one law for an elite and one law for the rest is not fair.”

Last week, former aide Dominic Cummings accused Mr Johnson of behaving “foolishly” and in a “possibly illegal” manner by seeking to get donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations and maintenance of No 10.

Mr Shapps led a fightback this morning by promising that the costs and payments would be issued in future. “I just don’t have the answer but the Cabinet Secretary will and it will be transparently produced in the annual report and the accounts of the Cabinet Office,” he told Times Radio.

Mr Shapps told Sky News that the Prime Minister has said he has “paid 100 per cent for the refurbishments”.

Read More

Evening Standard Comment: As the Electoral Commission investigates, we ask: did No 10 break the law?

Inside Number 11 Downing Street: how could Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment cost £200,000?

Why is Boris Johnson so broke?