The UK’s political spending watchdog said on Wednesday it will conduct a formal investigation into the source of funding for the refurbishment of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat.
The Electoral Commission said there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect an offence had been committed.
Johnson came under pressure to explain how the expensive refurbishment was paid for, after his former chief advisor Dominic Cummings said Johnson had planned to “have donors secretly pay for the renovation.”
In a blog post published on April 23, Cummings said he told the prime minister that he thought the plans “were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal” and refused to help organise these payments. As a result, he said, Johnson stopped speaking to him about this matter in 2020.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said on Wednesday, “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.
“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.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We believe all reportable donations have been transparently and correctly declared and published by the Electoral Commission.” But he said the party “will continue to work constructively with the Electoral Commission on this matter.”
The main opposition Labour party welcomed the investigation and stressed that “no stone should be left unturned” during the probe.
At the Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Electoral Commission’s suspicion that offences may have occurred was “incredibly serious,” and asked Johnson if he believed any rules or laws might have been broken.
Johnson replied that he had “paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally,” adding “I have met the requirements that I have been obliged to meet in full.”
“When it comes to the taxpayer and the costs of Number 10 Downing Street, it was the previous Labour government—I think Tony Blair—racked up a bill of £350,000 [$485,000].
“And I think what the people of this country want to see is minimising taxpayer expense they want to see a government that’s focused on their needs and delivering more homes for the people of this country.”