PM Johnson risks probe by UK parliament’s conduct watchdog

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at number 10 Downing Street in London, UK, April 28, 2021. (CHRIS J RATCLIFFE / BLOOMBERG)

The UK parliamentary sleaze watchdog may probe whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the code of conduct for Members of Parliament by failing to properly declare how the refurbishment of his government residence was funded.

PM Boris Johnson’s government is already mired in a series of sleaze investigations that threaten to dent the prospects of his Conservative Party ahead of local elections

Labour MP Margaret Hodge on Thursday wrote to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in the House of Commons Kathryn Stone requesting the investigation, a day after the Electoral Commission announced its own probe into the matter. Johnson has denied wrongdoing.

“With this matter the prime minister would appear to have repeatedly broken the general principles of the Code of Conduct, failing to be either honest, open or accountable when questioned by the media and in Parliament,” Hodge wrote, according to the letter released by her office.

Johnson’s government is already mired in a series of sleaze investigations that threaten to dent the prospects of his Conservative Party ahead of local elections across the country next week.

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Even so, a YouGov poll for The Times late on Thursday showed the Tories enjoy an 11-point lead over the main opposition Labour Party, which has spent weeks trying to capitalize on the slew of negative headlines for the government. Conservative Members of Parliament told Bloomberg earlier this week that the stories of sleaze aren’t cutting through with voters.

Sanctions

If Stone decides to investigate the matter, it would be at least the fourth probe into the renovation of Johnson’s flat at 11 Downing Street, adding to ones by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests Christopher Geidt, who was appointed to that role by Johnson on Wednesday, and the Electoral Commission, which regulates political donations.

Several Parliamentary committees are also probing the access the now defunct lender Greensill Capital had to ministers and officials as it sought access to government contracts and emergency coronavirus aid programs.

Unlike the Electoral Commission, which is investigating the action of Johnson’s party, Stone is able to probe his personal conduct. If she upholds the complaint, she can refer the case on to Parliament’s Committee on Standards, which is able to recommend suspension or even expulsion of an MP.

The probes follow weeks of speculation about who paid for the renovations to Johnson’s apartment and when, amid UK media reports that the works cost as much as 200,000 pounds (US$279,000).

Johnson’s office has been facing questions over whether he used a loan from Conservative donors to pay for the refit of his residence last year – and whether he disclosed the funding properly to regulators.

The controversy exploded last Friday when Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings went public with claims that the premier tried to get party donors to pay for redecorating the apartment.

Johnson’s alleged plan would have been “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations,” Cummings wrote in an incendiary blog post.

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During heated exchanges in Parliament on Wednesday, Johnson denied that any laws had been broken and insisted he had done nothing wrong. “I paid for the Downing Street refurbishment personally,” he said.

He was asked three times by opposition leader Keir Starmer to say who had covered the costs of the initial invoice for the work, but declined to name anyone.

It is “unacceptable that the prime minister refuses to publicly declare exactly where the upfront costs for this redecoration came from, exactly how much these costs amounted to, and who the prime minister is re-paying or has re-paid to cover these costs,” Hodge wrote.