Boris Johnson accused of 'lying' about flat refurbishment as Tory Party fined over donation

Credit: PA

Boris Johnson has been accused of misleading an investigation into the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat after a separate probe uncovered evidence contradicting his previous claims about how the revamp was paid for.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner asked the prime minister to explain why he "lied" by saying he did not know who was behind the payments made for improvements to the 11 Downing Street flat.

The Conservative Party was fined £17,800 by the Electoral Commission, which said the Tories had failed to "accurately report a donation and keep a proper accounting record" of the money handed over by Tory peer Lord Brownlow in October 2020.

Why the Prime Minister has been accused of lying:

Earlier this year, following a separate investigation into the flat's refurbishment, Lord Geidt, the adviser on minister's standards, absolved the PM of breaking the ministerial code by failing to declare donations, because Mr Johnson told him he did not know where the cash had come from.

But the Electoral Commission saw evidence that Mr Johnson had sent Lord 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.

This would suggest the PM did know where the money came from.

Ms Rayner 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 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."

Downing Street responded to the allegations, claiming the PM did not know Lord Brownlow was providing the money to a “blind trust” to donate funds to cover the refurbishments to his Downing Street flat.

His official spokesman said: “He was not aware of the details of the underlying donor.“Lord Brownlow did not make a decision about becoming the person to cover the costs until after that exchange.

“Lord Brownlow was the chair of a blind trust and acted in accordance with his experience of managing blind trusts in that way, the Prime Minister’s discussions with Lord Brownlow were done without him knowing the underlying donor of that donation.”

The spokesman said he was not aware of whether Lord Geidt was shown the WhatsApp exchanges between Mr Johnson and Lord Brownlow.

How much money was involved?

The Electoral Commission report said the Tories had repeatedly claimed the money had not been a donation but had been described as "a donation to the prime minister via the party", a "ministerial matter", the repayment of a loan, and at one stage a "gift to the nation".

The refurbishments to the flat above No 11 sparked sustained scrutiny of Mr Johnson's finances, with the works vastly exceeding the £30,000 annual limit afforded to the prime minister.

The commission found that the Tory Party had failed to properly declare donations of £67,801.72 from Huntswood Associates Limited (of which Lord Brownlow is director) in October 2020, including £52,801.72 connected to the costs of refurbishment.

After the fallout over who paid for the refurbishments, Mr Johnson agreed to pay the full amount himself.

The flat's refurbishment was overseen by Carrie Johnson. Credit: PA

The commission's investigation found that decisions relating to the handling and recording of the donation reflected "serious failings in the party's compliance systems".

Thursday's fine comes against a backdrop of another crisis engulfing government, after ITV News revealed a video showing former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing with No 10 staff about an alleged Covid-rule-breaking party in Downing Street last Christmas.

Mr Johnson’s attempt to apologise and move on from the row, by tasking Cabinet Secretary Simon Case with undertaking an investigation, appear to have failed as details continue to emerge about the alleged event - and others - during Covid restrictions.

Indeed, Mr Johnson has only apologised for the video of staff laughing and didn't admit the party actually happened.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie stand in Downing Street Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Announcing the nearly £18,000 fine for the Tory Party on Thursday, Director of Regulation at the Electoral Commission Louise Edwards said: “Our investigation into the Conservative Party found that the laws around the reporting and recording of donations were not followed.

“We know that voters have concerns about the transparency of funding of political parties. Reporting requirements are in place so that the public can see where money is coming from, inaccurate reporting risks undermining trust in the system.

“The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems. 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 Tories are considering whether to appeal the fine.

A party spokesman said: “The Conservative Party has received notification from the Electoral Commission that, in their judgment, the manner in which a payment was reported represented a technical breach of reporting requirements under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

“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.”