BORIS Johnson today dodged questions on who initially paid for his £58k No11 flat refurb after the elections watchdog opened a major probe into whether he broke the law.
In a bombshell announcement just an hour before PMQs, the Electoral Commission watchdog announced a formal investigation into the doing up of his private residence and that there are grounds to believe an offence may have occurred.
If found guilty, the PM could face huge fines, or the police could even be involved if there’s a serious breach of the law.
The move is a hammer blow to BoJo just days before crunch local elections, and will heap fresh pressure on him to finally come clean on the details of the murky funding arrangements behind the plush makeover.
The PM has been battered by a massive political storm over claims he went cap in hand to Tory donors to stump up megabucks so he could plaster No11 in £800-a-roll wallpaper and trendy pink sofas.
Former aide Dominic Cummings accused him last week of wanting donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations to his No 11 residence in a “possibly illegal” move.
It’s not clear when he got the loan, or who paid it, but No10 insists he has now paid for the works in full.
Downing Street has refused to say whether he got a loan from the party.
It means he has gone over the £30,000 allowance PMs get each year for doing up their flat and keeping it in working order.
Mr Johnson and his fiancé Carrie Symonds are said to have wanted to do over the flat after Theresa May left as they disliked the John Lewis decor.
It’s been reported that the Tory Party paid the fee for the makeover, which the PM then paid back later.
It’s unclear when this happened, as the ministerial register of interests has yet to be published, and the amounts spelled out in full.
It came as it was announced that the Prime Minister has appointed the Rt Hon Lord Geidt as the new Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, months after Alex Allan quit last year.
Lord Geidt, a crossbench peer, was the Queen’s private secretary for 10 years until 2017.
It’s expected that he will get to work on the ministerial register – and all the details about the refurb will be published within the coming days.
Labour blasted the latest revelations and welcomed the probe by the watchdog.
Cat Smith, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Democracy said: “No stone should be left unturned to get to the bottom of who’s funding the Prime Minister’s luxury lifestyle, and what they could be expecting in return.
“If the Conservatives want to do something about the stench of sleaze engulfing them, they must cooperate fully with the Electoral Commission and publish the paper trail and any invoices relating to this matter.”
MP Conor Burns rallied around the PM today, saying the money had been sorted and the PM paid for the costs out of his own pocket.
He said: “Let’s see what the Electoral Commission look at, let’s see how long they take.
“At the end of the day, I think the public are looking on. I have had one email on this, from a constituent, by the way.
“I have been out delivering leaflets, no one has raised this. People have been praising the vaccine rollout, the Prime Minister’s handling of this.
“I think this will blow away.
And this morning Michael Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, came out to bat for the PM too, saying Boris couldn’t be expected “to live in a skip”.
Boris Johnson “can’t be expected to live in a skip”, the wife of Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said.
She blasted critics for hauling him to the Commons yesterday to answer questions on it, forcing him to cancel meetings about NHS contracts.
The Daily Mail columnist said the Prime Minister must live “to a certain standard” and that it is “perfectly reasonable” for him to want to change the colour of his sofa if he wanted to.
According to the paper, Mr Johnson told aides he could not afford the revamp of his Downing Street flat as the costs started to spiral.
The newspaper reported that he had said the cost was “totally out of control” and that his fiancee Carrie Symonds was “buying gold wallpaper”.
She said someone needed to “bite the bullet” and say that a fund is needed to ensure “decent furnishings” at Downing Street into the future.
She told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “The thing about the whole No 10 refurbishment thing is that the Prime Minister can’t be expected to live in a skip.
“He has to live to a certain standard and the problem with all of these political things like this is that no-one is ever prepared to bite the bullet.
“No-one is ever prepared to say ‘look, this building does need to be maintained, there do need to be decent furnishings, we do need to have a fund that pays for it, let’s just do it’.”
Ms Vine said Mr Johnson is “working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to run the country which is quite a difficult job to do”.
She added: “If he wants to have a pink sofa instead of a green sofa, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing for him to want.”
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said today: “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.
“We will provide an update once the investigation is complete. We will not be commenting further until that point.”