Do the public care how the PM financed Downing Street's refurbishment? ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan finds out
Boris Johnson has said he does not believe "there is anything to see" despite the Electoral Commission saying there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect an offence as it launched a formal inquiry over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.
The prime minister told reporters during a visit to a school in west London: "We will comply with whatever they want and I don’t think there is anything to see here, or to worry about."
The probe will seek to establish who initially paid for the work and whether any donation was properly declared.
Politics Editor Robert Peston runs through the "battle for John Lewis"
During a visit to King Solomon Academy, Mr Johnson also joked: "The one thing I object to in this whole farrago of nonsense is, I love John Lewis. But what I will say is what people want this Government to do is focus on their priorities."
The prime minister has faced fierce criticism for his decision to remain the final arbitrator of any standards investigations.
And on Thursday Mr Johnson did not commit to publishing the findings of Lord Geidt in full.
Labour has criticised the arrangement for meaning Mr Johnson "effectively marks his own homework".
'What is he hiding?': Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hits out at Boris Johnson for 'nipping out of meetings to look at wallpaper - wallpaper that cost £840 per roll'
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said investigations into the PM's flat refurb could be "over in five minutes" if he revealed "who paid for it in the first place".
Sir Keir, on an election campaign visit in Manchester, said: "I think this is getting a bit farcical. I think the Prime Minister could actually deal with this very, very quickly.
"All he’s got to do is answer a very simple question; which is who paid, initially, for the redecoration of your flat?"
The Labour leader said: "The question’s really moved on. The first question is who actually paid for this redecoration in the first place.
"The second question, I think, is probably the bigger question now: why is the Prime Minister not prepared to just answer that question? What is he hiding?"
He added: "I think it says something about this Prime Minister that in the middle of a pandemic he was nipping out of meetings to look at wallpaper. Wallpaper, by the way, that was about £840 a roll.
"It says something about the Prime Minister that he spent last week phoning round journalists to moan about his old friend Dominic Cummings. This is about priorities."
Also on Thursday, it was reported Mr Johnson’s mobile phone number has been freely available on the internet for the last 15 years.
A contact number for the prime minister was listed on the bottom of a press release when he was still shadow higher education minister in 2006 – a document which was still available online on Thursday.
Downing Street declined to comment.
Attempts to call the number on Thursday night were met with an automated message saying the phone was “switched off” and an invitation to “please try later or send a text”.
Reports earlier this month suggested senior officials had called on Mr Johnson to change his number because of concerns about how many people contacted him directly.
The prime minister’s use of his mobile phone has been in the spotlight after text message exchanges with entrepreneur Sir James Dyson and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman were leaked.
Earlier on Thursday, Labour leader Sir Keir was photographed in John Lewis on Thursday in a bid to mock the prime minister over reports his fiancee Carrie Symonds wanted refurbishments to get rid of the "John Lewis nightmare" left by his predecessor Theresa May.
As part of the probe by the Electoral Commission, investigators can demand documents and information, and could potentially seek a statutory interview with the Prime Minister as part of the process.
However, Mr Johnson insisted that newly-appointed ministerial standards adviser Lord Geidt will do an "outstanding job" in his separate review into whether any donations for the refurbishments in No 11 were properly declared.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said all the investigations into the renovation of the prime minister's flat are "all welcome".
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted the PM kept to the ministerial code over the renovation of his flat, saying it is "only right" that the newly-appointed ministerial standards adviser reports to the prime minister.
'He didn't break ministerial code': Nadhim Zahawi defends Boris Johnson over payments for the renovations of his Downing Street flat
Downing Street has said Mr Johnson would be "happy" to assist the watchdog’s inquiries into who initially paid for the work and whether any donation was properly declared, as the prime minister insisted he has not broken any laws or rules.
However Labour has warned Lord Geidt’s position is not truly independent because Mr Johnson continues to be the "ultimate arbiter" of the ministerial code, therefore allowing the Prime Minister to be “judge and jury” of his own behaviour.
But vaccines minister Mr Zahawi, backing the crossbench peer as a “really creditable individual”, issued a defence of the system.
He told ITV News Mr Johnson has "already confirmed that he's taken advice and he's complied with the ministerial code".
Pressed as to whether Mr Zahawi was suggesting Mr Johnson had already decided the code before the investigation that the code was not broken, the vaccines minister said: "No, he's confirmed that he followed the ministerial code".
Lord Geidt was appointed to the position on Wednesday, five months after the resignation of his predecessor Sir Alex Allan, and immediately launched his own investigation into the revamp.
Sir Alex quit in response to Mr Johnson standing by Priti Patel despite an investigation finding the home secretary’s conduct “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying”.
Lord Geidt does not have the power to launch his own investigations and No 10 confirmed that the Prime Minister remains the final adjudicator of any breaches.
Labour’s shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: “The Prime Minister can’t be judge and jury on his ministers’ – or indeed his own – behaviour.
“The Prime Minister shouldn’t be able to block investigations into his ministers or himself when breaking the ministerial code.”
Lord Geidt has been tasked with “ascertaining the facts surrounding” the renovation and advising Mr Johnson “on any further registration of interests that may be needed”.
In separate inquiries, Electoral Commission investigators can demand documents and information, and could potentially seek a statutory interview with the Prime Minister as part of the process.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who is head of the Civil Service, is also undertaking a review.
Mr Johnson has said he “personally” paid for the renovations but has refused to say whether he received an initial donation from the Conservative Party to cover the costs reported to be up to £200,000.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has made it public that he paid “upfront and entirely at his own expense” when he redecorated his own Downing Street flat last year.
Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch, responding to a question from Labour, gave a written answer stating: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer redecorated the No 10 Downing Street flat last year.
“It was paid for upfront and entirely at his own expense. No request was made to HM Treasury.”
Questions have been mounting over the flat since former aide Dominic Cummings accused Mr Johnson of wanting donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations to the apartment in a “possibly illegal” move.
The Electoral Commission said its investigation will “determine whether any transactions relating” to the renovations “fall within the regime regulated by the commission and whether such funding was reported as required”.
The Conservative Party said it would “continue to work constructively” with the commission.
Listen to the ITV News Politics Podcast:
“We believe all reportable donations have been transparently and correctly declared and published by the Electoral Commission,” a spokesman said.
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’s costs have spiralled.
Tory peer Lord Brownlow said in an email leaked to the Daily Mail that he was making a £58,000 donation to the Conservatives “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed ‘Downing Street Trust’”.
The appointment of former private secretary to the Queen Lord Geidt as the new adviser paves the way for the publication of the latest register of ministerial interests, which could contain details of any donations to fund the flat.