The Electoral Commission has announced it will investigate the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat.
The Prime Minister’s troubles over the renovations dramatically deepened on Wednesday when the commission said it would begin a “formal investigation” to see if any rules had been broken.
Questions have been mounting for Johnson since former aide Dominic Cummings accused him of wanting donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations to his No 11 residence in a “possibly illegal” move.
Downing Street has refused to say whether Johnson received an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover renovations to the flat at No 11.
Announcing its investigation, the Electoral Commission said it had “conducted an assessment” of information provided by the Conservative Party since contact began late last month.
“We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred,” a statement from the watchdog said.
“We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.”
Crucially, the watchdog said the investigation will “determine whether any transactions relating” to the works “fall within the regime regulated by the commission and whether such funding was reported as required”.
“We will provide an update once the investigation is complete.
“We will not be commenting further until that point,” a spokeswoman added.
Labour accused Johnson of having “lied” over the funding, and accused senior members of the Government of a possible “cover-up”.
Opening PMQs on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer questioned who paid for the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat.
He said: “Well, somebody here isn’t telling the truth. The House will have heard the Prime Minister’s answer and I remind him that the Ministerial Code says, and I quote, ‘ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation’”.
Sir Keir continued: “Who initially, and Prime Minister, initially is the key word here, who initially paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?”
Johnson replied: “As for the latest stuff that he is bringing up, he should know that I have paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally.
“And I contrast it… any further declaration that I have to make, if any, I will be advised upon by Lord Geidt.”
Johnson has also recently faced pressure over allegedly saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose a third coronavirus lockdown.
The Daily Mail first reported the remarks, the BBC and ITV were among those to carry reports with their own sources alleging he made the comment in October.
Sir Keir said: “It was reported this week, including in the Daily Mail, the BBC and ITV – backed up by numerous sources – that at the end of October the Prime Minister said he would rather have, and I quote, ‘bodies pile high’ than implement another lockdown.
“Can the Prime Minister tell the House categorically yes or no, did he make those remarks or remarks to that effect?”
The PM replied: “No. And (Sir Keir) is a lawyer, I am given to understand, and I think if he is going to repeat allegations like that he should come to this House and substantiate those allegations, and say where he heard them and who exactly is supposed to have said those things.”
He added: “Lockdowns are miserable, lockdowns are appalling things to have to do, but I have to say that I believe we had absolutely no choice.”
Scottish secretary Alister Jack said Johnson “certainly won’t be resigning” amid accusations of sleaze against him and his Government.
SNP MP Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) told the Commons: “There’s only one surefire way for the union to be strengthened in the next week and that’s to get the Prime Minister to Scotland and on the campaign trail.
“The Secretary of State surely knows there’ll be throngs of happy Scots rejoicing in his sleaze-free presence, helping the Electoral Commission with their inquiries, sharing the anecdotes about bodies piled high in the street, what could possibly go wrong for the Scottish Tories?
“So, can the Secretary of State and I start working on the itinerary? Surely Scotland deserves to see its Prime Minister before he inevitably has to resign.”
Jack replied: “The Prime Minister’s diary is not my concern and he certainly won’t be resigning.”
He added: “In all my discussions with him, his passion for strengthening the United Kingdom burns very bright indeed.”
Prime Ministers get a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested Johnson has spent up to £200,000.
Last week the Daily Mail published details of an email from Tory peer Lord Brownlow in which he said he was making a £58,000 donation to the party “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed ‘Downing Street Trust’”.
A No 10 spokeswoman has said that the costs “have been met by the Prime Minister personally” and that party funds “are not being used for this”.
But Downing Street has refused to answer whether party funds were used in the past.
The bombardment of allegations around the Prime Minister come as he is embroiled in a public row with Cummings, who until last year was his senior adviser in No 10.
Cummings hit out at his former boss in a blog post, saying he had fallen “below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves” after No 10 sources, reportedly the Prime Minister himself, accused him of being behind a series of leaks.