London, Apr 28 (PTI) The UK’s Electoral Commission on Wednesday launched a formal investigation into the funding of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishments, which have been at the centre of a row over whether donations to the ruling Conservative Party were involved in it.
The elections watchdog, which has been in contact with the Tory party since last month, said it felt there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect that an offence may have occurred in relation to the apartment used by the Prime Minister above No. 11 Downing Street.
“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,” an Electoral Commission spokesperson said.
“We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case. 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 said.
The watchdog said it would not comment any further on the probe and will provide an update only once the investigation is complete.
Under its remit, the Electoral Commission looks at evidence in a process known as an 'assessment'.
If the assessment finds evidence that gives reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or contravention under the Political Parties at Elections and Referendums Act (2000) has occurred, and it is proportionate and appropriate to do so, it then opens an investigation.
In a heated clash at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Johnson was vehement that there had been no impropriety.
“I have covered the costs, I have met the requirements that have been advised to me in full. Any further declaration I have to make, if any, I will be advised upon,” he said.
But Opposition Leader Keir Starmer labelled him “Major Sleaze” as he claimed the ruling Conservatives had been found to be handing out “dodgy contracts”, “jobs for their mates” and “cash for access”.
The Electoral Commission move this week follows weeks of controversy and “sleaze” allegations by the Opposition Labour Party, escalated further by former Downing Street top aide Dominic Cummings claiming in a blog that the UK PM had planned for party donors to 'secretly pay' for the works at the flat he shares with fiancée Carrie Symonds and their baby boy Wilfred.
“The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended,” Cummings writes in his now infamous blog post from last week.
“I refused to help him organise these payments. My knowledge about them is therefore limited. I would be happy to tell the Cabinet Secretary or Electoral Commission what I know concerning this matter,” said Johnson’s former close ally as his Chief Strategy Adviser.
It led to Labour demanding a full investigation into the allegations that Johnson borrowed from party funds for the refurbishment.
Like Prime Ministers over the years, Johnson occupies the flat above No. 11 Downing Street and each new incumbent is allocated a budget to refurbish the place to their taste.
Johnson and his fiancée are said to have decided to opt for a grander makeover worth around 58,000, pounds which was allegedly sought to be funded through donations before being repaid.
In a statement released to Parliament last week, the Cabinet Office said that the UK PM had “personally met” all the costs of the redecoration.
In its response to the allegations, Downing Street has said: 'At all times, the government and ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law. Cabinet Office officials have been engaged and informed throughout and official advice has been followed.
'All reportable donations are transparently declared and published - either by the Electoral Commission or the House of Commons registrar, in line with the requirements set out in electoral law.
Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns.' While it is not against the rules to receive donations, politicians are required to declare them under public transparency requirements. PTI AK RUP RUP