Boris Johnson repeatedly dodges questions over flat refurb that could have broken law – ‘This is irrelevant’

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read

Watch: Starmer brands Johnson ‘Major Sleaze’ during PMQs row

Boris Johnson has repeatedly dodged questions from Sir Keir Starmer over who paid the initial costs of his Downing Street flat refurbishment, following the dramatic announcement that the potentially law-breaking matter will be investigated by the Electoral Commission.

"He never answers the question," Labour leader Starmer said in a bitter exchange with Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday.

Johnson claimed the matter was "irrelevant" to "most people".

The remarkable exchanges continued when Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, asked later in the session: "Are you a liar, PM?"

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on April 28, 2021, to take part in the weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons. - Britain's Electoral Commission on Wednesday announced a formal investigation into how Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid for a lavish makeover of his Downing Street flat, seriously escalating a simmering scandal. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street on Wednesday as the Electoral Commission announced a probe into possible 'offences' relating to funding of his flat refurbishment. (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Announcing the probe one hour before PMQs, the Electoral Commission said it was satisfied there are “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.

The government is on the record as saying Johnson has covered the cost of the renovation, which some reports have suggested totalled £200,000.

However, the key question remains over whether someone else initially paid for it, something that would have to be declared. The government has refused to say whether Johnson received an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover renovations to the flat, which is in 11 Downing Street.

Starmer asked Johnson in the House of Commons: “Who initially – and prime minister, 'initially' is the key word here – who initially paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?”

Johnson, refusing to answer the question, replied: “As for the latest stuff that he is bringing up, he should know that I have paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally."

Starmer then asked again, offering the PM a "multiple choice”. “Either the taxpayer paid the initial invoice, or it was the Conservative Party, or it was a private donor, or it was the PM.”

Johnson again refused to answer, instead talking about former Labour governments’ taxpayer spending on "tarting up" the flat.

However, when asked by Starmer if he thinks any rules or laws have been broken relating to the refurbishment, Johnson stated: "No, I don’t."

Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday April 28, 2021. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer questions Boris Johnson at PMQs on Wednesday. (House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)

Questions have been mounting for Johnson since his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings accused him of wanting donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations to his Number 11 residence in a “possibly illegal” move.

Announcing its investigation, the Electoral Commission said it had “conducted an assessment” of information provided by the Conservative Party since contact began late last month.

“We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred,” a statement from the watchdog said.

“We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.”

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On Tuesday, Labour had accused the PM of lying about the scandal and demanded a probe into a potential "cover-up".

And responding to the Electoral Commission announcement on Wednesday, shadow minister Lucy Powell said: "This isn’t going to end well for Boris."

Shadow democracy minister Cat Smith said: "No stone should be left unturned to get to the bottom of who’s funding the PM's luxury lifestyle and what they could be expecting in return."

Backbench MP Neil Coyle said: "Johnson may not give a monkeys about the rule of law, but he is not above it. Truth will out."

Watch: What is the row between Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings all about?