Pressure was building on Boris Johnson over his redecoration of Downing Street yesterday after it was reported a special WhatsApp group of aides and officials planned the renovations.
Investigators probing who paid for the refurbishment of the prime minister’s apartment, which allegedly cost £200,000, were last night urged to demand the year’s worth of messages by Scottish Labour.
Separate inquiries into how the redecoration work was funded are being carried out by the Electoral Commission, Simon Case, the head of the Civil Service, and Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests. It remains unclear who initially paid for the work with the prime minister accused of planning to use Tory party donors to finance it.
Conservative Party staff have been given until Friday to hand over communications relating to the refurbishment.
An email from human resources in the name of Alan Mabbutt, a senior official and registered legal officer, about the Electoral Commission’s inquiry said: “You are put on notice that this is a criminal investigation.”
Labour MP Ian Murray said: “There are clearly unanswered questions from Boris Johnson on the revamp of Downing Street. If a WhatsApp group existed it could prove to be a treasure trove to investigators.”
It was reported yesterday that there was panic in Downing Street last week over the probe. There is also believed to be concern about a paper trail which includes Ben Elliot, the chairman of the Conservative Party, who is believed to be opposed to using donors’ money to fund the renovation.
Johnson looked to shift attention away from the controversy as he insisted he was “laser-focused” on delivering the country’s priorities after the parliamentary session came to an end on Thursday.
But senior Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who chaired the Public Accounts Committee spending watchdog, asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate his conduct over the flat revamp.
The prime minister says he “personally” paid for the renovations but has refused to say whether he received an initial donation from the Tory Party to cover the costs.
Meanwhile, Lord Eddie Lister, a former aide to Johnson, has denied he quit last week over alleged conflicts of interest.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves has said Lister must be investigated by Cabinet Secretary Case. The peer has held a number of second jobs while a member of Johnson’s staff.
Lister said there were no conflicts of interest.
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