Labour has stepped up demands for Boris Johnson to explain how he paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, as a senior minister repeatedly refused to say where the money came from.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the Prime Minister had met the cost of the work on the flat over No 11 Downing Street – which reportedly ran to £200,000 – out of his own pocket.
But during a round of broadcast interviews, she repeatedly refused to say whether the bill was initially settled by the Conservative Party – or one of its donors – in which case it should have been declared as a loan under party funding rules.
It followed the explosive claim by Mr Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings that the Prime Minister had wanted donors to secretly fund the work – a plan he described as “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said there was a “real stench” coming from the Government and called on the Electoral Commission – which polices the party funding rules – to mount a full inquiry.
Ms Truss, who is the first minister to speak publicly since Mr Cummings unleashed his bombshell on Friday, dismissed the allegations as “tittle tattle” and “noises off”.
“I have been assured that the rules have been fully complied with and I know that he has met the costs of the flat refurbishment,” she told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.
“I absolutely believe and trust that the Prime Minister has done that.
“What people want to know is that, in line with the rules, the Prime Minister has met the cost of this refurbishment. That has happened. All the costs will be declared in line with the rules.”
Earlier this week, the Daily Mail published details of an email from Tory peer Lord Brownlow in which he said he was making a £58,000 donation to the party “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed ‘Downing Street Trust’”.
The Electoral Commission – which first raised the issue with the Conservative Party more than a month ago – said at the weekend it was still looking into whether any of the sums relating to the work on the flat should have been declared.
Ms Rayner said the commission should now launch a full inquiry and she called on the Prime Minister to publish the latest register of ministers’ interests, which was now some eight months overdue.
“These are serious allegations,” she told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“Why are they hiding the fact that ministers have to declare these donations and they’ve not done that? That’s serious. This is a real stench around what (the) Government is about.”
Mr Cummings launched his onslaught after he was accused by No 10 of being responsible for a series of damaging leaks – including text messages exchanged between Mr Johnson and the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson.
It followed his dramatic departure from Downing Street last year amid a furious internal power struggle with the Prime Minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
Ministers are now concerned at what he may say when he gives evidence to MPs investigating the Government’s response to the pandemic next month.
Mr Cummings is widely known to have been critical of Mr Johnson’s delay in launching a second lockdown in England when cases began rising last autumn and there is speculation he will seek to blame him for the high death toll.
Among the allegations in his blog post was a claim the Prime Minister wanted to halt an inquiry into the leak of the plans which effectively bounced him into going ahead with it.
He said Mr Johnson had been concerned he would have “very serious problems” with Ms Symonds after a close friend of hers was implicated in the probe.
Ms Truss confirmed that, almost six months on, the investigation by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was still ongoing.
She dismissed claims by Mr Cummings that the whole episode showed that Mr Johnson lacked “competence and integrity”.
“This is tittle tattle that is being promoted and I don’t think it really addresses the key issues that people in Britain care about,” she said.
“The Prime Minister, who I work very closely with, has consistently through this crisis acted in the best interests of the country.
“These noises off are simply not helpful, they are not contributing to a positive future and they don’t reflect what is actually going on in Downing Street.”