Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied any offences over the refurbishment of his Downing Street home but faces claims his government is “mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal”.
Mr Johnson’s insistence he has not broken any laws came shortly after the Electoral Commission confirmed there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect an “offence or offences” may have occurred relating to the Downing Street work, as it launched a formal investigation into the matter.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer dubbed Mr Johnson “Major Sleaze” as the pair clashed during heated exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Pointing in the direction of the Prime Minister, he said: “Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access – and who is at the heart of it?
“The Prime Minister, Major Sleaze, sitting there.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also piled pressure on Mr Johnson, calling on him to publish the details of how his flat refurbishment was funded before the “police come knocking at his door”.
Mr Johnson said he “personally” paid for the renovations but refused to answer whether he received an initial loan from the Tory party.
Sir Keir reminded Mr Johnson he is required to declare any benefits that relate to his political activities, including loans or credit arrangements, within 28 days and asked him whether any “rules or laws had been broken in relation to the refurbishment”.
Mr Johnson said: “No, I don’t. What I believe has been strained to breaking point is the credulity of the public”.
In a furious response to the Labour leader, in which he defended his record in government, the Prime Minister told MPs: “Week after week, the people of this country can see the difference between a Labour Party that twists and turns with the wind and thinks of nothing except playing political games, whereas this party gets on with delivering on the people’s priorities.”
Downing Street response
Questions have been mounting since former aide Dominic Cummings accused Mr Johnson of wanting donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations to his No 11 residence in a “possibly illegal” move.
The Electoral Commission, which has launched a formal investigation into the matter, said the probe will “determine whether any transactions relating” to the renovations “fall within the regime regulated by the commission and whether such funding was reported as required”.
The commission can issue fines of up to £20,000, with most offences under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 resulting in a civil sanction.
But it can also refer investigations to the police or prosecutors.
Asked if Mr Johnson is willing to be questioned in person, Mr Johnson’s press secretary said: “The Prime Minister hasn’t been asked for any information but he and the government will of course be happy to assist if asked.”
Prime ministers get a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested Mr 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”.
Mr Blackford claimed the Prime Minister is “up to his neck in a swamp of Tory sleaze”.
He said: “We’ve seen contracts for cronies, texts for tax breaks and cash for curtains.
“The Prime Minister should publish these details today rather than wait until the police come knocking at his door.”
Mr Johnson also faced pressure over allegedly saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose a third lockdown.
The Conservative leader told the House of Commons he had not made those remarks and called on Sir Keir to “substantiate” the “allegations”.
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Ian Murray claimed “endless questions about Tory sleaze and the personal conduct of the prime minister weakens the union”.
He said: “Today’s announcement of the Electoral Commission investigation drives home that if the incompetent and scandal-hit Tories remain the main opposition at Holyrood, the SNP will be able to hide its own failings behind Tory failure.”