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Saturday, May 08, 2021

Explained: Why Boris Johnson’s flat is under probe

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiance Carrier Symonds moved into this flat in July 2019 and the inquiry aims to find out who paid for the refurbishment.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: May 1, 2021 12:23:29 am
Boris Johnson, Boris Johnson downing street flat, Boris Johnson flat row, 11 downing street, express explained, indian expressUK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (AP Photo)

The UK’s Electoral Commission has launched an inquiry into how Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s flat on Downing Street is being funded. Simultaneously, No. 10 has begun its own investigation.

Why is it being probed?

Johnson and his fiancée Carrier Symonds moved into the flat above 11 Downing Street in July 2019. Tony Blair was the first Prime Minister to live in this flat, and, according to the BBC, it was the preferred choice for Johnson and Symonds because it is much larger than the one above number 10. According to media reports, there has been speculation that renovations worth £200,000 are being carried out on the flat, when the PM receives annual public grant of £30,000 that to spend on the flat.

What is the Commission probing?

The inquiry aims to find out who paid for the refurbishment and the amount of money spent. It is the party that is under investigation, not Johnson. According to an article in The Guardian, the Commission is examining claims that Conservative Party funds initially paid for the renovations, that the party may have loaned Johnson the money, and that cash was handed over by Tory donors to pay for the work and set up a trust through which money could be funnelled.

How did the row start?

Last week, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser, claimed that the Prime Minister planned to illegally get donors to pay for his flat. In a blog, Cummings wrote, “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. I refused to help him organise these payments.”

Has Johnson responded to the claims?

On Thursday, Johnson told reporters that the row was a “farrago of nonsense”. The Prime Minister said he would cooperate fully with the investigation, after the Electoral Commission said there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect an offence had been committed in the funding of the flat.

Earlier, minister Lord True had said no money from the public grant was spent in the financial year 2019-2020 and that “any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the Prime Minister personally”.

What could be the implications of the Electoral Commission probe?

If it finds that the party failed to declare a donation, the Electoral Commission has the power to impose a fine of up to £20,000. And if it believes that the failure to declare the donation was intentional then the commission could refer its findings to the police, who could open a criminal investigation, The Guardian article said.

“Labour says Johnson could be dragged into the inquiry personally because he is a ‘regulated donee’ and is obliged to provide details of any donation that could be considered for his personal benefit. The commission remains tight-lipped on this point,” it said.

The UK’s Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, 2000 requires those who receive donations or loans to check that the donor is permitted and to report any donation to the Electoral Commission within a month.

What will the probe by the PM’s office look at?

The BBC has reported that Johnson has appointed Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to review how the refurbishment of his flat has been paid for. No. 10 has said its own inquiry would not be published in full.

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