Labour has launched a legal bid for the Electoral Commission to investigate how Boris Johnson paid for the lavish refurbishment of his Downing Street flat – and whether he broke electoral law.
The party’s lawyers late on Sunday sent a formal letter to the watchdog stating that it was “now incontrovertibly in the public interest” to “commence a formal investigation” into the PM’s activities.
They want the commission to use its statutory powers to force Mr Johnson, Tory donors and the Conservative Party to reveal documents and invoices that could shed light on exactly what money changed hands.
The letter referenced allegations by Dominic Cummings that Mr Johnson had suggested soliciting secret donations to fund the work – an approach the former chief of staff said was “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations”.
Electoral Commission rules state that all donations and loans must be properly recorded and, if they are over a minimum amount, reported.
Cabinet minister Liz Truss, who was wheeled out on Sunday morning to defend the PM, was unable to deny that her boss had been given a loan for the work by Tory donors.
In a pair of excruciating interviews with broadcasters, the trade secretary kept repeating carefully worded lines that the prime minister had “met the cost of the flat refurbishment” and had not broken the rules.
But she repeatedly deflected questions about whether the PM had been given a loan from political donors, and when he had paid. She also refused to say when details about any donations would be released.
In their legal letter to the commission, Labour’s solicitors said they sought the commission’s “reassurance that the commission will not hesitate to use its statutory powers under Schedule 19B of the act“ to compel Mr Johnson, Mr Cummings, donors, and the Conservative Party “to provide an explanation together with information and documents for the purposes of the investigation”.
It continued: “Clearly the production of the relevant invoices for any work be it redecoration and or refurbishment will resolve this. You have the requisite powers to request the production of the estimates, invoices and receipts for payment all dated in the course of your investigation.”
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: “Discussions with the Conservative Party continue as we work to establish whether any sums relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the commission, and therefore need to be reported and subsequently published. The party is working with us on this.”
Speaking on Sunday morning, cabinet minister Ms Truss told Sky News: “I have been assured that the rules have been fully complied with and I know that he has met the costs of the flat refurbishment. I absolutely believe and trust that the prime minister has done that.”
But asked specifically whether the prime minister had been given a loan for the project, she said: “What people want to know is that in line with the rules the prime minister has met the cost of this refurbishment. That has happened. All the costs will be declared in line with the rules. That, as far as I am concerned, completely answers that question.”
The same runaround performance was repeated on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, with Ms Truss sticking to the same very tightly worded answer.
Shadow democracy minister Cat Smith said: “The Conservatives can’t keep trying to cover this up. If they want to do something about the stench of sleaze engulfing them, they must cooperate with the Electoral Commission and hand over everything they have.
“It would be deeply troubling for the integrity of our democracy if the prime minister was found to have accepted outside funding to support his luxury lifestyle and failed to declare it.”
Speaking on Sunday morning Labour’s Jess Phillips called for a “root and branch” independent inquiry into the use of taxpayers’ money under Boris Johnson’s government.
Confirming that the party would be seeking an urgent question in parliament on the issue on Monday, she said that “integrity really, really matters”.
“The truth of the matter is we don’t know the truth and we’ve got scrapping between two very powerful men who seem more interested in who’s lying about what and who’s leaking what than the substantive of the issue,” the shadow minister said.
“That is whether contracts get given out by text messages, whether tax breaks get given out by text messages or whether the prime minister uses his pals to get money to have his flat done up.
“Whether I back Dominic Cummings’s view or Boris Johnson’s view, what we need is a proper independent inquiry where it isn’t about two boys fighting and is about taxpayers in our country.”