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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Dan Kitwood Boris Johnson with Chancellor Rishi Sunak at a school in London today.

Boris Johnson says he doesn't 'think there's anything to see here' amid flat refurbishment probe

The Electoral Commission will investigate Johnson’s flat renovations.

BORIS JOHNSON HAS criticised questions over the lavish refurbishment of his Downing Street flat as a “farrago of nonsense” as he vowed to comply with the Electoral Commission investigation.

The British prime minister has said that “I don’t think there’s anything to see here” despite the watchdog saying there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect an offence as it launched a formal inquiry.

The probe will seek to establish who initially paid for the work and whether any donation was properly declared amid suggestions he was given a loan from the Conservative Party.

Investigators can demand documents and information, and could potentially seek a statutory interview with the prime minister as part of the process.

During a visit to a London school, Johnson told broadcasters: “We will comply with whatever they want, and I don’t think there is anything to see here, or worry about.”

The upmarket overhaul of his No 11 residence was inspired by a desire to get rid of the “John Lewis furniture nightmare”, as reported by the Tatler magazine covering high society.

But Johnson said: “The one thing I object to in this whole farrago of nonsense is I love John Lewis.”

He also insisted that newly-appointed ministerial standards adviser Lord Geidt will do an “outstanding job” in his separate review into whether any donations were properly declared.

Labour criticised the arrangement because Johnson remains the “ultimate arbiter” of the code, meaning Johnson “effectively marks his own homework”.

Johnson argued, in a letter to chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Lord Evans, that he “cannot and would not wish” to give up the power.

“That vital responsibility is quite properly mine alone and, as an elected politician, one for which I am ultimately accountable to the electorate,” he said.

Geidt was appointed to the position yesterdaay, five months after the resignation of his predecessor Alex Allan.

Allan quit in response to 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.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the situation was getting “a bit farcical” as he urged Johnson to “answer a very simple question” on who initially paid for the refurbishments, adding: “What is he hiding?”

Geidt has been tasked with “ascertaining the facts surrounding” the renovation and advising Johnson “on any further registration of interests that may be needed”.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who is head of the Civil Service, is also undertaking a review.

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 (€230,269).

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 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 but argued “we believe all reportable donations have been transparently and correctly declared”.

Prime ministers get a budget of up to £30,000 (€34,540) per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested 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 (€66,778) donation to the Conservatives “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed ‘Downing Street Trust’”.

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