Electoral Commission flat probe remit should cover PM himself, says Labour

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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A red-faced Boris Johnson angrily ranted his way through PMQs yesterday. Keir Starmer went into the session well-armed; just one hour before, the Electoral Commission announced a probe into the Downing Street flat refurb. The Labour leader proceeded to drive the PM up the wall as he asked the inevitable question: who initially paid? A furious Johnson replied only that he “covered the cost” but did not deny receiving a donation or loan of £58,000 from Tory peer and donor David Brownlow in the first place, as alleged, despite not declaring any transaction.

This is not a good look for Johnson, especially with voters heading to the polls next week. But what does the Electoral Commission investigation actually mean for the PM? Well, the probe is currently only set to examine the Conservative Party, not Johnson. This means that the result may be that a party official is referred by the commission to the police. If the review is widened to include Johnson, the PM himself could eventually be interviewed under caution by the police. Labour has argued the remit of the investigation should include the PM who, the party says, as a “regulated donee” is obliged to provide details of any donation that could be considered a gift or for his own personal benefit.

Johnson appointed Lord Geidt as his ‘independent’ adviser on ministerial standards yesterday, a post vacant since the last one quit over Johnson’s inaction on Priti Patel. Nadhim Zahawi described Geidt this morning as a “really creditable individual”, but some are less convinced. As openDemocracy pointed out, the new ethics adviser works for global arms company BAE Systems. First on Geidt’s agenda is the flat refurb. Zahawi assured us that the PM will “deliver everything Lord Geidt asks for in his investigation”. But, as the “ultimate arbiter” on whether he has breached the ministerial code and whether that breach should be punished, Johnson will, as Liz Kendall pointed out today, effectively be “marking his own homework”.

Kendall described flat-gate as part of a “pattern of behaviour” this morning, echoing Starmer who last night told ITV’s Peston that there is a “growing sense” among the public that “the sleaze is back for real”. He would have an “independent adjudicator”, the Labour leader told viewers, because the current situation – allowing the PM to control when his ‘independent’ adviser starts an investigation or whether their rulings are binding – undermines standards in public life. Kendall was out on the morning round to discuss social care. The shadow minister is giving a speech this afternoon in which she will say that transforming the sector must be treated as an “economic priority“. She is expected to highlight the decision from US President Joe Biden to include investment in home care as part of his post-pandemic infrastructure programme, and call for a ten-year plan for investment and reform.

Coming up this weekend, the LabourList team will be visiting Wales and Hartlepool to provide you with all the latest from the campaigns as the elections approach. There will be no morning email on Friday, but we will return to your inboxes on Tuesday after the bank holiday. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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