Electoral Commission Opens Formal Investigation Into Who Paid For Downing Street Redecoration
The Electoral Commission has announced it is opening a formal investigation into the funding of the Downing Street renovations (Alamy)
The Electoral Commission has announced it is opening a formal investigation into the Conservative Party over the funding of the Downing Street renovations.
In a statement released on Wednesday, an Electoral Commission spokesperson said after being in dialogue with the Tories since March, they are “now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.
The watchdog confirmed a formal investigation would now take place, and that they would provie no further comment until the investigation was complete.
“The investigation will determine whether any transactions relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the Commission and whether such funding was reported as required," the spokesperson added.
The issue relates to redecoration of the flat above Number 11 where Boris Johnson lives with his fiancee Carrie Symonds and son Wilfred.
The Cabinet Office announced last week the Prime Minister was now meeting all of the costs over and above the £30,000 annual allowance given to perform works on maintaining the historic building.
But there have been ongoing questions over whether the Conservative Party initially paid for the renovations, or if they loaned Johnson the money.
There has also been reports Tory donor Lord Brownlow offered to pay for the work in exchange for heading up a charitable trust to oversee the preservation of Downing Street.
Number 10 has refused to give further details, saying the PM will register any payments or funding in the usual way, but the register of ministerial interests is now several months overdue.
They released a statement last night saying “Conservative party funds are not being used to pay for the Downing Street flat”, but this did not answer if there had been any transactions before now, given the redecoration was completed last summer.
Labour has been calling for the PM and the Tories to come clean about the true nature of the funding, and this morning the Electoral Commission confirmed they are looking into the matter.
The spokesperson said: “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.
“We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred.
"We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case."
In response a Conservative Party spokesman said: "We believe all reportable donations have been transparently and correctly declared and published by the Electoral Commission.
"We will continue to work constructively with the Electoral Commission on this matter. While an investigation is ongoing we will not be commenting further."
The commission's statement comes as it was confirmed former royal adviser Lord Geidt had been appointed by Downing Street to serve as the new independent adviser on ministerial interests.
The Cabinet Office said the crossbench peer, who served as the Queen's private secretary from 2007 to 2017, "brings a distinguished record of impartial public service and experience of Government to bear on the appointment".
The position has been vacant for several months following the resignation of former adviser Sir Alex Allan, who announced his departure in November following a bullying inquiry into Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson concluded his cabinet colleague had not breached the ministerial code, despite Sir Alex saying in his report that Patel had "not consistently met the high standards expected of her".
That decision could now be the subject of a judicial review following a court case brought by the union for senior civil servants the FDA.
The announcement of Lord Geidt's appointment said he would "begin by ascertaining the facts surrounding the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat and advise the Prime Minister on any further registration of interests that may be needed".
It is the second such review announced this week after the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said he was tasked by Johnson to look at how the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat was paid for.
It came in response to damaging allegations from the PM’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings, who claimed in a blogpost on Friday plans to get a Tory donor to secretly fund the works were “unethical, foolish” and “possibly illegal”.
Appearing before a Commons committee on Monday, Case said a review into the refurbishment would look at “how this has been done”, and that the review would take “a matter of weeks”.
Asked repeatedly whether he was aware if private donations had covered any of the costs, he said he had “not been involved directly in this”, adding: “I do not have all of the facts and details at my disposal.”