LONDON – Ethical allegations swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson got more serious on Wednesday after the UK Election Commission announced it would open an official investigation into whether Mr Johnson secretly used political donations to renovate his apartment in Downing Street.
The commission said it had found “reasonable grounds to suspect that one or more offenses may have occurred.” Mr Johnson is accused of using funds from a Tory Party donor to supplement the budget for the modernization of his official quarters, which are above the offices at 11 Downing Street.
Mr Johnson insisted he paid for the renovation out of his own pocket, but did not disclose whether he repaid a donation made to the Conservative Party once the accusations emerged. He is entitled to £ 30,000 ($ 41,600) a year in public funds to decorate his apartment, but he apparently concluded that the budget was insufficient.
News of a formal investigation has raised political stakes for Mr Johnson, who engaged in an ugly exchange of accusations and counter-charges with his disaffected former chief adviser Dominic Cummings. In Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Johnson appeared unusually shaken and angry.
Under tough questions from Labor Party leader Keir Starmer, the Prime Minister said: “I have personally paid for the renovation of Downing Street. He said he would disclose the funding more if a newly appointed independent advisor deemed it necessary.
“I have fully complied with the code of conduct and officials have advised me continuously throughout this matter,” Johnson said.
The questions about the renovation of the Prime Minister’s apartment are just one of the myriad of issues hampering him as his government has become stuck in an ethical quagmire. He is also accused of making senseless statements about imposing another foreclosure and unusual access to wealthy businessmen.
Mr Johnson has denied reports he told his aides last fall that he would rather let ‘bodies pile up in the thousands’ rather than impose a third lockdown. But he admitted to expressing deep frustration, saying “these were very bitter and very difficult decisions for any prime minister.”
“The lockouts are miserable,” said visibly sorry Mr Johnson. “Lockdowns are a terrible thing to do.”
The Prime Minister claimed the Labor Party attacks were an effort to distract from the government’s successful rollout of coronavirus vaccines, which he predicted voters will reward in regional elections on May 6.
He defended his contacts with British billionaire James Dyson over his company’s emergency manufacturing of ventilation machines in the early days of the pandemic, noting that Mr. Dyson, whose company is known to manufacture High-end vacuum cleaners said this week that the two men were not close.
Still, the cloud of allegations has kept Mr Johnson on the defensive, with a succession of lawmakers accusing him of hijacking, covering up or worse.
“Are you a liar, Prime Minister? Scottish National Party parliamentary leader Ian Blackford said, slapping the Speaker of the House of Commons on the wrist, who said the question was “unsavory”.
Mr Starmer, a former crown attorney, tried to pin Mr Johnson on specific points regarding the renovation, noting that ministers who knowingly make false statements in the House are forced to resign.
He insisted on Mr Johnson as to who paid the initial bill for the work on the apartment and asked him to respond to a report that wealthy Tory donor David Brownlow had contributed £ 58,000 ($ 80,000 ), which were used to pay for part of the upgrade.
Mr Johnson declined to answer either of those points, repeating only that he had paid for the renovation. He tried to repel the attack on the opposition, saying it ignored public health and economic issues that preoccupy ordinary people in favor of frivolous questions about home decor.
“He goes on and on about the wallpaper, which, as I have told him dozens of times, ‘I paid for’,” Mr Johnson said, shrugging angrily.