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Electoral Commission to investigate Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat renovations

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Electoral Commission to investigate Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat renovations

The spending watchdog said there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.

The PM is under growing pressure to declare how refurbishments were paid for after his ex-adviser said there was a plan for donors to “secretly pay”.

Mr Johnson told MPs he had covered the revamp “personally”, but would not say who had paid the initial bill.

And, speaking at the government’s Covid press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock repeatedly refused to comment on the funding of the refurbishment, urging the media to “concentrate on the big things that really matter”.

The prime minister receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to carry out renovations to his Downing Street flat each year – but newspaper reports suggest the bill for the latest renovations could be as high as £200,000.

In its investigation, the commission – the independent watchdog regulating UK political finance – will assess the Conservative Party’s compliance with laws on political donations.

It will examine whether any spending on the flat falls within its remit, and if it was published as required. 

The commission can impose fines if breaches are found, or pass on allegations to the police if it sees fit. 

During fraught exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pushed Mr Johnson to explain who had paid the initial invoice for renovations – asking whether it was the taxpayer, the Conservative Party, a private donor or Mr Johnson himself.

He accused the government of being “mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal”.

But Mr Johnson replied: “The answer is I have covered the costs… I conformed in full with the code of conduct and officials have kept advising me through this whole thing.”

The Treasury has revealed that Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Mr Johnson’s neighbour in Downing Street, also redecorated his flat last year, saying the costs were paid “upfront and entirely at his own expense”.

Baffling” – that is one cabinet source’s verdict on how No 10 is handling the allegations about the renovations of the Downing Street flat. 

Matt Hancock repeatedly wouldn’t engage in questions on the matter at Wednesday’s press conference. 

And Boris Johnson wouldn’t answer the central question in the Commons earlier during a session of Prime Minister’s Questions, where he looked more red-faced and furious than I can recall. 

The question is a simple one. Who paid the bill for the Downing Street flat makeover at the start? 

And for as long as the PM won’t answer that, the question will be asked again, and again, and again.

That’s not because there’s a fascination over whether he and fiancée Carrie Symonds have chosen rattan bedside tables or Persian rugs. 

Nor is what matters why they felt it necessary to overhaul the flat, which was – when we visited briefly to film with Theresa May – extremely comfortable and pretty immaculate. 

But it matters because there are strict rules about who can give money to politicians, and strict rules that dictate they are meant to tell the rest of us. 

Whether you are interested in this particular saga or not, that is a central principle of how politics is meant to work.

And that’s why some of Boris Johnson’s staff at the time, not just Dominic Cummings, who has gone nuclear about the issue in public, were uneasy with what was going on

The prime minister said on the record earlier that no rules had been broken. 

Yet there are enough question marks for an independent organisation with legal powers to have concluded it is worth a formal investigation. 

And the clearest question is, who picked up the tab at the start? 

If the PM wants to remove the doubts about what happened, he could publish the information, confront the consequences and then move on. 

But, for as long as he won’t, his opponents can claim that he has something to hide.

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