Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds moved into No 11 Downing Street in July 2019
An official investigation has been launched into how home improvements at the prime minister’s Downing Street flat were funded.
The Electoral Commission – which regulates political and electoral finance – says: “There are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred.”
The UK’s top civil servant Simon Case has now been asked to review how the refurbishment was funded.
What’s the row about?
Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds carried out renovations on their private residence, the flat above 11 Downing Street.
There has been speculation the bill was as much as £200,000, despite the fact the prime minister only receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to spend on the flat.
Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings claimed the prime minister had planned to have donors “secretly pay” for the work on his flat.
Mr Cummings said this had been “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended”.
Labour wants the prime minister to reveal the full amount spent and who paid in the first place.
What has the government said?
Government minister Lord True said, on Friday, 23 April: “Any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the prime minister personally”.
But money for the work was reportedly advanced to the prime minister – either as a donation or a loan – which he later paid back.
Asked whether he had ever discussed using donations to pay for refurbishments, Mr Johnson said: “If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.”
If Boris Johnson accepted money, why would this be controversial?
If the prime minister accepted money for the refurbishment, he would be expected to make that public.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said that any contributions “should have been declared by now”.
He added: “If business people have funded the upgrade of his flat then… we need to know if those business people have an interest in government policy, whether they have an interest in procuring government contracts.”
How should any funds have been declared?
Normally, MPs have to register within 28 days any donations or loans which could influence their actions.
However, there is also a list of ministers’ interests with different reporting rules and publication schedules.
It’s not clear to which of these (if either), any financial help for the refurbishment should have been declared.
The Electoral Commission says its investigation would “determine whether any transactions relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the commission and whether such funding was reported as required”.
What’s been reported about possible donations?
The government has been looking at the question of funding the Downing Street buildings through a charitable trust – similar arrangements already exist for other official residences such as Chequers and Dorneywood.
According to the Daily Mail, Tory peer Lord Brownlow is reported to have said last October he was making a donation of £58,000 to the Conservative party, “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed ‘Downing Street Trust'”.
Speaking to MPs on Monday, the head of the Civil Service, Simon Case, also confirmed that Lord Brownlow had been asked to chair such a trust, and seek out cross-party trustees.
To date, no trust has been formed.
Mr Case said that it was a “genuinely complicated” issue, with questions for the government and the Charity Commission over how it would be regulated.
However, he said that a charitable trust couldn’t cover the private areas of Downing Street.
Why does the PM live next door to No 10?
Like several of his recent predecessors, Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds are living at No 11 because the four-bedroom flat there is much larger than the one above No 10.
Tony Blair was the first prime minister to live at No 11 – he and his wife Cherie turned the space into a family home for themselves and their three (later four) children.
The Grade 1-listed flat was then extensively refurbished by David and Samantha Cameron in 2011 at a cost of £30,000.
Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron pictured in the flat at 11 Downing St
The latest upgrade for the flat was carried out by interior designer Lulu Lytle, a source has told the BBC.
The couple wanted to transform the flat from Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare” into a “high society haven”, according to the society magazine Tatler.