Europe

UK electoral body probes premier’s flat refurbishment

Move from watchdog follows days of speculation as to how controversial and expensive refurbishment was funded

Karim El-Bar   | 28.04.2021
UK electoral body probes premier’s flat refurbishment

LONDON

Britain’s Electoral Commission on Wednesday announced that it has launched a formal investigation into Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, after days of speculation as to how it was funded.

“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,” a spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said.

There were “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred,” the spokesman said, adding it will look into whether transactions related to the refurbishment 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.”

British prime ministers work from 10 Downing Street, but since Tony Blair, they have lived next door at 11 Downing Street as the residential quarters there are larger.

Prime ministers are allowed £30,000 of taxpayer’s money per year to maintain and refurbish their flat.

Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds was widely quoted describing the flat Johnson and herself inherited from former Prime Minister Theresa May as a “John Lewis nightmare”.

John Lewis is a high-end department store.

Symonds brought in leading interior designer Lulu Lytle to redesign the flat. Local media reported that the costs soared to as much as £200,000.

The issue for Johnson is how he paid for the extra costs above the £30,000 he received from taxpayers.

Both he and his ministers claim he paid the remaining amount himself – but only after widespread reports that he attempted to have the money paid, or at least loaned, to him from the Conservative Party and/or its donors.

Conservative Party money should only be used for electoral purposes, and donor money raises questions about conflict of interests. Both issues still stand regardless of whether Johnson eventually paid back the money, in the event, he did indeed take loans from either or both of them first.

Last week, Johnson’s former chief adviser and ally Dominic Cummings accused his former boss of trying to silence and destroy a leak inquiry into the use of Conservative Party donations to refurbish Johnson’s Downing Street apartment.

“It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves,” Cummings said on his blog, adding that he warned Johnson about using party donations for personal use.

“I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended,” he said.​​​​​​​

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