Boris Johnson has been accused of misleading his standards adviser after an official investigation found he had asked a Tory donor to pay thousands of pounds to fund the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
The long-running controversy over the flat was reignited on Thursday after the Electoral Commission announced it had fined the Conservative Party £17,800 for breaking the rules on reporting donations.
The probe also unearthed evidence which appeared to undermine Mr Johnson’s previous assurances to Lord Geidt, his adviser on ministerial standards, over the extent of his own involvement in the refurbishment plans.
Senior sources in the House of Lords claimed yesterday that Lord Geidt was privately “furious” about the disclosure, while a Whitehall insider suggested he now had two options: request he be allowed to reinvestigate or resign.
Meanwhile, there is mounting speculation that Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, will now initiate her own investigation into Mr Johnson.
While Ms Stone’s office has refused to comment, Labour has written to the Commissioner demanding that she investigate, with parliamentary sources suggesting that a decision on whether to launch a new probe could be announced early next week.
Publishing the findings of its investigation, the Electoral Commission said that the Conservatives had failed to fully report a donation of £67,000 from Huntswood Associates Limited, a company controlled by Tory peer Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row.
While the Conservatives reported only £15,000, the commission said it should have disclosed the remaining £52,000 that was used to fund the renovation of the flat in 11 Downing Street.
This amounted to breaches in the law around the reporting of donations, it concluded, and represented “serious failings” in the party’s “compliance systems.
It comes eight months after the probe was first launched on the back of a string of reports into the lavish renovation and mounting scrutiny over the failure of the Conservative Party and Mr Johnson to register the funds in public transparency registers.
More significantly for the Prime Minister, the probe found that he sent Lord Brownlow a WhatsApp message on 29 Nov last year, in which he asked him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified refurbishment works on the residence.”
Lord Brownlow agreed to do this, and explained that a proposed trust – which had been proposed to finance the works but ultimately never materialised – had “not yet been set up but that he knew where the funding was coming from”.
The next day, Lord Brownlow told a senior party official he intended to “cover the further refurbishment costs personally”.
The exchange appears to call into question Mr Johnson’s assurances to Lord Geidt, his adviser on ministerial interests, that he “knew nothing” of the payments until they were reported in the media in February this year.
This defence was Lord Geidt’s annual report, published in May, which exonerated Mr Johnson of any wrongdoing, albeit noting that he had acted “unwisely”.
The report found that, in total, Lord Brownlow paid £112,549 towards the renovation of the flat.
It also disclosed that in October 2020, a junior member of Conservative Party staff asked about the £52,801 the party had not declared, to which they were told “Don’t worry”.
On Thursday, Dominic Cummings, the former Number 10 chief aide, said the report showed that Mr Johnson had “lied” to Lord Geidt.
He added that prior to his departure from Number 10, he had been “extremely blunt” with the Prime Minister that his “desire for secret donations to fund wallpaper” was “illegal and unethical”.
Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of Labour, said: “It is right that the Electoral Commission has fined the Conservative Party. But the Prime Minister must now explain why he lied to the British public saying he didn’t know who was behind the No 11 flat refurb – all the while he was WhatsApping the donor asking for more money.
“Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He’s not only broken the law, but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers.”
Pushing back on Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s spokesman denied he had lied and insisted he had “acted in accordance with the rules at all times” and has “made all necessary declarations”.
Downing Street’s defence amounted to Mr Johnson not knowing that Lord Brownlow was providing the money to the “blind trust” he was organising.