Tories fined £17800 for breaching electoral law over Downing Street flat refurbishment – The Mirror

Tories fined £17800 for breaching electoral law over Downing Street flat refurbishment – The Mirror

The Conservative Party has been fined by the Electoral Commission after failing to follow the rules over Boris Johnson’s lavish refurbishment of his grace-and-favour pad The Conservative Party was today fined £17,800 for breaching electoral law over Boris and Carrie Johnson's lavish refurbishment of their Downing Street flat. A long-awaited Electoral Commission probe found laws on the reporting of donations “were not followed” over the couple's costly revamp. The Tories “failed to fully report” a £67,801.72 donation in October 2020 from Huntswood Associates Limited – a firm controlled by the Tory donor Lord Brownlow. That loan included £52,801.72 to pay for revamping the flat. But the Conservatives only reported £15,000 – and left the other £52,801.72 out of public records, said the watchdog. And the report reveals the Prime Minister WhatsApped the Tory peer in October 2020, begging him for more cash towards the costly makeover of the home he shares with wife Carrie and son Wilfred. It conflicts with Mr Johnson’s claims to his own sleaze advisor that he did not know the source of funding for the flat until months later in February 2021, in a probe that cleared him of responsibility for the scandal. Tory chiefs tried to claim the £53k sum was “not a donation to the party”, and was in fact “a donation to the Prime Minister via the party”, or “a ‘gift to the nation’”, or “a ministerial matter”, or “the repayment of a loan”, the Commission said. But the watchdog dismissed these claims, saying the full amount “was a donation and should have been reported to the Commission”. That meant the party's records of the £53k sum were “not accurate” and there were “serious failings in the party’s compliance systems,” the Electoral Commission said. Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson's sleaze is corroding the office of Prime Minister. “The Paterson scandal, illicit Christmas parties in Number 10 and now dodgy payments from a multimillionaire Conservative Party donor to fund his luxury Downing Street refurb. “It is one rule for them, and one rule for the rest of us, and Boris Johnson is at the heart of it. “It is right that the Electoral Commission has fined the Conservative Party but the Prime Minister must now explain why he lied to the British public saying he didn’t know who was behind No11 flat refurb – all the while he was whatsapping the donor asking for more money.” She added: “Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He's not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our Prime Ministers.” The pair faced months of questions over works in the four-bed living space above 11 Downing Street – traditionally used by PMs as it is bigger than the two-bed flat above No10. When they arrived in 2019, a No10 spokeswoman said there would not be “any additional cost to the taxpayer” of Mrs Johnson living there. But she removed Theresa May ’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare”, according to an article in Tatler – a decade since David and Samantha Cameron had a £30,000 new kitchen fitted. The makeover inspired by designer Lulu Lytle is said to have included £840-a-roll wallpaper, a £9,800 Baby Bear sofa and a £3,000 Lily Drum table. There was a £30,000 cap on taxpayer cash contributing to the work – so the PM had to find the cash himself, or from donors. But there were months of questions about where the money came from. The probe revealed questions were asked about the donation in October 2020 by a junior member of staff in the Conservative Party treasurer's office. But a senior fundraising officer told them the £15,000 related to “events” and the rest was for “something else…don't worry.” A separate probe in May found Boris Johnson “unwisely” allowed the lavish revamp to go ahead without thinking about who'd pay the bill. Lord Geidt, the advisor on ministerial interests, said the PM had assumed a charitable Trust that didn't exist could fund the works . When it fell through, Lord Brownlow and Conservative HQ each footed bills – and the PM wasn't even aware until the media picked up the story in February. Mr Johnson then “settled the full amount himself”. Lord Geidt ruled Mr Johnson had not broken the ministerial code – but his report painted a picture of chaos inside No10. And details in the Electoral Commission’s report conflict with Lord Geidt’s version of events. It reveals WhatsApp messages between Mr Johnson and Lord Brownlow months earlier in November 2020, where he begged him for extra cash. The report says Mr Johnson personally sent a message to Lord Brownlow asking for more cash for “further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence.” Lord Brownlow agreed, and went on to pay a further £59,747.40 to the suppler – bringing the total cost of the refurbishment to £112,549.12. In March 2021, the Cabinet Office confirmed in an internal email that the Prime Minister had personally paid the supplier the full amount. But because Lord Brownlow had paid the second, £60,000 worth of invoices directly to the supplier at the request of Mr Johnson, the Electoral Commission did not conclude they counted as a “donation” under their remit. The report reads: “[Lord Brownlow's] authorisation was sought and given, and he paid the invoices. There is no evidence of any agreement that these expenses were incurred by, or would be paid by, the party.” No10 has consistently refused to reveal the original source of funds for the refurb – stating opaquely that Mr Johnson had “covered the cost” and “settled the full amount” for the work. Ms Rayner has written to Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, calling on her to rule on the PM's failure to declare the Lord Brownlow donation to Parliament. Ms Stone had previously said she would wait for the Electoral Commission's report before intervening further. Ms Rayner wrote: “Today’s report demonstrates that the Prime Minister has failed to declare donations which appears to put him in clear breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct as well as the Conservative Party having breached its own legal obligations. “I am concerned, although not entirely surprised, by the Prime Minister’s additional failure to properly disclose these donations towards the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat in his declaration of Ministerial interests.” Louise Edwards, Director of Regulation at the Electoral Commission, said: “Our investigation into the Conservative Party found that the laws around the reporting and recording of donations were not followed. “We know that voters have concerns about the transparency of funding of political parties. Reporting requirements are in place so that the public can see where money is coming from, inaccurate reporting risks undermining trust in the system. “The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems. As a large and well-resourced political party that employs compliance and finance experts, and that has substantial sums of money going through its accounts, the Conservative Party should have sufficiently robust systems in place to meet its legal reporting requirements.” The Commission fined the Conservative Party £16,250 for failing to declare Lord Brownlow's initial donation, and a further £1,550 for inaccurate record keeping. A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “The Conservative Party has received notification from the Electoral Commission that, in their judgement, the manner in which a payment was reported represented a technical breach of reporting requirements under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. “We have been in constant contact with the Electoral Commission with regards to this matter and have sought their advice as to how the transaction should be reported since it was made. “We are considering whether to appeal this decision and will make a decision within 28 working days.” No10 mounted an extraordinary defence of Boris Johnson, insisting: “The PM has acted in accordance with the rules at all times.” The defence rested on No10 saying the PM knew Lord Brownlow was organising the money… but not that it was actually HIS cash. He said the PM had “some limited contact” with Lord Brownlow, but “the record shows no evidence that the Prime Minister had been informed by Lord Brownlow that he had personally settled the total costs.” Despite the Electoral Commission saying the opposite, No10 claimed: “Lord Brownlow was the chair of a blind trust.” No10 claimed that showed the Whatsapp message of November 2020 was “entirely consistent” with Lord Geidt's report. In the WhatsApp message, Boris Johnson asked donor Lord Brownlow “to authorise further.. refurbishment works”. Lord Brownlow “agreed to do so” and explained “he knew where the funding was coming from”, today's report confirms. Yet in Lord Geidt's report, the PM said he “knew nothing about such payments” until before media reports in February 2021. Asked about the inconsistency, the PM's spokesman said: “The findings as relating to the point about WhatsApp are entirely consistent with what [Lord Geidt] found, with Lord Brownlow acting in accordance with managing a blind trust”. He added: “As set out in Lord Geidt's report, the Prime Minister was not aware the details of the underlying donor until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.” No10 was unable to say whether Lord Geidt had even seen the WhatsApp message before finishing his report. Yet the PM's spokesman insisted Lord Geidt's report was “thorough” and he had full confidence in the independent advisor, who would remain in his job. No10 insisted Mr Johnson “took advice and acted in accordance with the Ministerial Code” and “he has made all the necessary declarations”. Asked if he was confident the PM has declared everything he replied: “Yes”. Asked if he recognised Dominic Cummings' claims he told the PM the arrangement was unethical, the spokesman replied: “No, the PM has acted in accordance with the rules”. Asked if there will be any further renovations after Carrie’s baby, the spokesman replied: “You wouldn’t expect me to be aware of changes that might be going on in the Prime Minister’s personal residence.”
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