Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment broke electoral law, watchdog rules

‘Laws around the reporting and recording of donations were not followed’, Electoral Commission finds

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 09 December 2021 14:25
Comments
Can Boris Johnson weather the storm of sleaze allegations? | Behind The Headlines

The Conservative party broke electoral laws over the controversial funding of Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment, the Electoral Commission has ruled.

“Our investigation into the Conservative Party found that the laws around the reporting and recording of donations were not followed,” said Louise Edwards, director of regulation – announcing a £17,800 fine.

The verdict brings allegations of sleaze against the prime minister back centre-stage, as he is dogged by allegations of misleading the public over last year’s No 10 Christmas parties.

For months, Mr Johnson and other ministers refused to confirm that the Tory party, and then a major donor, originally funded the lavish redecoration.

An investigation was launched over whether the law was broken through a failure to properly declare that a gift or loan had been received for the works.

In its ruling, the Commission makes clear that the Conservatives were negligent in failing to “fully report a donation of £67,801.72 from Huntswood Associates Limited in October 2020”.

Its report says the gift included £52,801.72 connected to the costs of refurbishment to 11 Downing Street – but it was “not reported as required” in the party’s quarter 4 2020 donation report.

The reference that was made in financial records to the payment of £52,801.72 made by the party for the refurbishment was “not accurate”.

It was recorded as a “blind trust loan”, but, the Commission found, was not a loan and the proposed trust to fund the refurbishments had not been formed.

In damning comments, Ms Edwards added: “We know that voters have concerns about the transparency of funding of political parties.

“Reporting requirements are in place so that the public can see where money is coming from, inaccurate reporting risks undermining trust in the system.

“The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems.

“As a large and well-resourced political party that employs compliance and finance experts, and that has substantial sums of money going through its accounts, the Conservative Party should have sufficiently robust systems in place to meet its legal reporting requirements.”

The ruling increases the likelihood of a potentially hugely-damaging investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards into the flat controversy.

Earlier this year, Dominic Cummings alleged Mr Johnson’s “plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations”.

However, he was cleared of breaking the ministerial code by Christopher Geidt, his hand-picked adviser on standards – who concluded he had merely been “unwise”.

The government has been widely criticised for failing to beef up the punishments the Commission is able to impose to a recommended maximum fine of £500,000.

The limit is £20,00 for an offence. The party has been fined £16,250 for failing to accurately report the donation from Huntswood Associates and a further £1,550 for “contravening the requirement to keep proper accounting records”.

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