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By Ben Guerin
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Boris Johnson Accused Of Lying To Inquiry Over Who Paid For Downing Street Flat Decorations

The Conservative Party has been fined £17,800 after being found to have inaccurately filed a donation used to help pay to refurbish the Downing Street flat (Alamy)

4 min read

Boris Johnson has been accused of lying to his own ethics adviser in an investigation over who funded the renovation of his Downing Street flat.

Labour has demanded an explanation from Johnson after accusations he misled Lord Geidt, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, over his contact with Tory peer Lord Brownlow.

The Conservative Party has been fined £17,800 after the Electoral Commission found it failed to "fully report" a donation used for last year’s refurbishments.

The report has also thrown up discrepancies over Johnson’s account to Lord Geidt, who has previously cleared him of wrongdoing.

Geidt said Johnson had acted "unwisely" by allowing work to begin on the flat without fully understanding how it would be paid for, but that ultimately he had not breached the ministerial code of conduct.

But in the adviser’s report from May this year, he said "for the credibility" of his investigation he tested whether Johnson knew about they payments made by Lord Brownlow.

He wrote that he "confirms that he knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021”.

However the Electoral Commission has now said it has seen evidence that Johnson had personally sent Brownlow a WhatsApp message in November 2020 “asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence”, to which he agreed.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has accused Johnson of "corroding the office of Prime Minister" and "taking the public for fools".

"The Paterson scandal, illicit Christmas parties in Number 10 and now dodgy payments from a multimillionaire Conservative Party donor to fund his luxury Downing Street refurb," she said. 

"It is one rule for them, and one rule for the rest of us, and Boris Johnson is at the heart of it.”

She added: "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 did not know who was behind the Number 11 flat refurb - all the while he was messaging the donor asking for more money.

“Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He has not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers." 

But Downing Street has denied Johnson lied to his adviser. The Prime Minister's official spokesperson said Johnson had "acted in accordance with the rules at all times and he acted following discussions with Lord Geidt".

"He has made all necessary declarations,” they continued. 

Johnson's spokesperson said Lord Brownlow was "acting in accordance with managing a blind trust” and that the Prime Minister "was not aware the details of the underlying donor until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021".

The spokesperson said while Johnson did have "some limited contact" with Lord Brownlow, "he was not aware of the details of the underlying donor”, suggesting that Johnson was aware the donor was drumming up funds for the flat, but was not actually dipping into his own pocket to pay for the redecoration.

The spokesperson added that Johnson had lied neither to the British public or to Geidt.

The Electoral Commission's investigation, which reported back this morning, found decisions relating to the handling and recording of the £68,000 gifted to the Conservatives for the refurbishment reflected "serious failings in the party's compliance systems".

The Tories say they are considering an appeal, but the decision also opens up the possibility for Johnson to be investigated personally by the Commons standards commissioner Kathryn Stone over the flat funding arrangement.

Stone had been asked to look into the matter but was said to be awaiting the outcome of the Electoral Commission’s inquiry before making a decision.

"The party's decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems," Louise Edwards, the Electoral Commission's director of regulation said.

"As a large and well-resourced political party that employs compliance and finance experts, and that has substantial sums of money going through its accounts, the Conservative Party should have sufficiently robust systems in place to meet its legal reporting requirements.”

The Electoral Commission reported that Huntswood Associates Limited – whose director is Tory peer Lord Brownlow – transferred £67,801.72 to the Conservative Party on 19 October, 2020.

Some £15,000 of that amount was for an event, but the commission said he "specifically identified the remaining £52,801.72 as a donation to cover an earlier payment of that value made by the party to the Cabinet Office”.

Last summer the Cabinet Office had paid three invoices totalling the same amount to pay for work to be done refurbishing the Prime Minister's flat above 11 Downing Street.

The commission said while the party reported the £15,000 in donation records submitted this January but it failed to report the £52,801.72.

A Conservative party spokesperson said: "We have been in constant contact with the Electoral Commission with regards to this matter and have sought their advice as to how the transaction should be reported since it was made.

"We are considering whether to appeal this decision and will make a decision within 28 working days."

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