Boris Johnson’s refurbishment of his Downing Street flat will be investigated by the Electoral Commission as the watchdog said it is satisfied there are “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.
The Prime Minister’s troubles over the renovations dramatically deepened on Wednesday when the commission said it would begin a “formal investigation” to see if any rules had been broken.
Questions have been mounting for Mr Johnson since former aide Dominic Cummings accused him of wanting donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations to his No 11 residence in a “possibly illegal” move.
Downing Street has refused to say whether Mr Johnson received an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover renovations to the flat at No 11.
Announcing its investigation, the Electoral Commission said it had “conducted an assessment” of information provided by the Conservative Party since contact began late last month.
“We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred,” a statement from the watchdog said.
“We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.”
Crucially, the watchdog said the investigation will “determine whether any transactions relating” to the works “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,” a spokeswoman added.
Labour has accused Mr Johnson of having “lied” over the funding, and accused senior members of the Government of a possible “cover-up”.
The commission’s statement came less than an hour before he was due to face Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons for Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Johnson was also facing pressure over allegedly saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose a third coronavirus lockdown.
Ahead of the commission’s statement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted a review into the controversy by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will answer whether the Tory party gave Mr Johnson a loan, before the Prime Minister paid back the costs.
“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,” the minister told Times Radio.
But Mr Shapps declined to say whether he would have approved the funding when he was party chairman, instead telling BBC Breakfast: “My side of things was the campaigning side of things, I didn’t get involved with the fundraising side of things.”
Prime ministers get a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested Mr Johnson has spent up to £200,000.
Last 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’”.
A No 10 spokeswoman has said that the costs “have been met by the Prime Minister personally” and that party funds “are not being used for this”.
But Downing Street has refused to answer whether party funds were used in the past.
It is likely Mr Johnson will also face questioning in the Commons over whether he said he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order a third shutdown, an accusation he has branded as “total rubbish” and one which has been denied by No 10.
But, after the Daily Mail first reported the remarks, the BBC and ITV were among those to carry reports with their own sources alleging he made the comment in October.
Downing Street officials have been less firm on a Times report that Mr Johnson separately told aides in September he would rather let coronavirus “rip” than impose a second lockdown.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the reports “distort the actions” of Mr Johnson, but the defence did not amount to a denial.
The bombardment of allegations around the Prime Minister come as he is embroiled in a public row with Mr Cummings, who until last year was his senior adviser in No 10.
Mr Cummings hit out at his former boss in a blog post, saying he had fallen “below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves” after No 10 sources, reportedly the Prime Minister himself, accused him of being behind a series of leaks.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for a “full and frank” explanation from the Prime Minister over the funding of the renovations.
“We really need to know who’s given the loan, who’s given the money, because we need to know who the Prime Minister, who Boris Johnson, is beholden to,” the Labour MP has told BBC Breakfast.
“To be honest, he lied yesterday, that’s not good enough.”
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