No 10 Sees 'No Need' For Standards Watchdog Probe Into ‘Wallpapergate’ Amid Westminster Sleaze Row
09:36 GMT 09.11.2021 (Updated: 15:16 GMT 28.05.2023)
Speculation regarding whether the Conservative Party broke the law on political donations regarding the funding of the lavish refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s flat above 11 Downing Street has fed into the barrage of criticism the UK Prime Minister has been fending off amid the Owen Peterson 'sleaze row'.
Downing Street believes there is no need for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate who paid for the lavish renovation
of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s flat, reported The Guardian. The PM’s spokesperson argued that the apartment above No 11, Downing Street was not connected to Johnson’s role as an MP.
“Obviously it’s a matter for her on that. The interest, as you know, has been transparently declared by the prime minister following advice from Lord [Christopher] Geidt, the independent adviser. And the Commons rulebook is very clear that such ministerial code declarations do not need to be double-declared. And the flat was clearly a ministerial matter, as the PM only occupies it by virtue of his office,” the spokesperson was cited as saying.
The remarks were made ahead of a looming decision by the UK Parliament's “sleaze” watchdog on a potential probe into whether Boris Johnson properly declared funding for the luxury refurbishment of his 11 Downing Street flat, as an MP.
According to the outlet, Kathryn Stone, the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards of the British House of Commons, will decide whether to investigate the controversial funding of the makeover after a separate probe by the Electoral Commission has wrapped up its work.
which scrutinises political party spending and donations has already handed its preliminary findings to the Conservative headquarters. Stone has found herself in Downing Street’s crosshairs after her recent conclusion that former Tory MP Owen Paterson had broken lobbying rules unleashed a sleaze row amid a led parliamentary battle over the standards system.
The Labour Party has repeatedly urged an investigation
by the standards watchdog into whether Boris Johnson should have declared a loan from a Tory donor, David Brownlow, to fund the redecoration of the apartment, the cost of which has never been formally confirmed.
Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of trying to “take down” the standards watchdog for attempts to investigate the controversy around the flat refurb.
Calls for a probe follow a May report by Lord Christopher Geidt, Johnson’s standards adviser, who concluded the Prime Minister had acted “unwisely” by not being more “rigorous” in finding out who was funding the refurbishment. Geit had cleared the PM of any breach of ministerial conduct rules in an incident dubbed “wallpaper-gate,” in a reference to the gold wallpaper reportedly used.
Prime Ministers are given an annual allowance of £30,000 to make improvements to their residence, yet cited accounts show £52,000 of cost overrun on the refit was funded initially by the Cabinet Office, which invoiced the Conservative Party, before it was covered by Tory donor Lord Brownlow, who was subsequently repaid by Johnson.
In response to the statement by Downing Street regarding the possibility of a third probe into the flat issue, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, was cited as saying: “It is not for the prime minister or cabinet ministers to decide what the independent anti-corruption commissioner investigates.”
Downing Street has been mired in a batch of festering sleaze scandals
. The controversy surrounding Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment comes as recently attention turned to Johnson’s post-Conservative conference “free of charge” holiday to southern Spain, funded by ex-MP Lord Zac Goldsmith.
Johnson had not declared it on the separate Commons register of MPs’ interests, which requires details including the value of such a trip. A spokesperson for Downing Street insisted the Prime Minister had “met the transparency requirements” as “he declared this arrangement in his ministerial capacity, given this was hospitality provided by another minister.”
All this comes as the prime Minister has been under fire of late over the ex-MP Owen Paterson lobbying row, which continues to dominate the Westminster agenda.
The row triggered an emergency debate in the Commons on Monday, where Labour’s Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of “damaging our democracy” over the sleaze scandal, leading the Conservative party “through the sewers and the stench lingers,” in a pattern of behaviour where the government “goes after” those charged with enforcing the rules.
He told the House of Commons Johnson had “corroded” trust in the political system with his botched attempt to overhaul rules on parliamentary standards
to help the ex-Cabinet Minister dodge a 30-day suspension over breaching Commons lobbying rules. After a massive public backlash, the government U-turned on the plan and Paterson announced he was quitting as MP for North Shropshire.
The PM was also accused of “running scared” after Johnson failed to make a showing at the debate, stating he had a “long standing” commitment to visit Hexham Hospital, in Northumberland.
Boris Johnson underscored that it is "very important" to get the Commons standards system right, saying: “What we’ve got to make sure is that we take all this very, very seriously and that we get it right. We are going to hold MPs to account. MPs should not break the rules."