Politics latest news: Electoral Commission launches investigation into Downing Street flat, saying ‘offences may have occurred’

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PMQs: Sir Keir Starmer is likely to grill Boris Johnson over the donations for his flat and other allegations
PMQs: Sir Keir Starmer is likely to grill Boris Johnson over the donations for his flat and other allegations
  • Watch live: PMQs clash from 12

  • Downing Street tight-lipped over funding of Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment ​

  • Queen’s former private secretary to be Boris Johnson’s new adviser

  • James Dyson: BBC twisted truth over my links to the Tories

  • Is BBC being used as a pawn over Boris Johnson row?

  • Coronavirus latest news: NHS app will become your vaccine passport

The Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into the donations used to pay for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, saying it believes “an offence or offences may have occurred”.

A spokesman said: “We have been in contact with the Conservative Party since late March and have conducted an assessment of the information they have provided to us.

“We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.

“The investigation will 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.

“We will provide an update once the investigation is complete. We will not be commenting further until that point.”

​​Follow the latest updates below.

10:46 AM

Downing Street flat is top of the inbox for Boris Johnson’s new standards adviser

Lord Geidt's inbox is full before he even starts - Getty
Lord Geidt’s inbox is full before he even starts – Getty

Lord Geidt has been confirmed as the Prime Minister’s new independent adviser on interests, as Boris Johnson attempts to grapple with the deluge of accusations of sleaze.

The Telegraph had revealed this morning that the former private secretary to the Queen would be named today (see 10:45am).

A Number 10 statement said: “He brings a distinguished record of impartial public service and experience of Government to bear on the appointment. The Prime Minister is grateful for Lord Geidt’s willingness to assume this important role, and for the particular contribution it will make to the maintenance of the integrity of the Ministerial Code.”

Lord Geidt, a crossbench peer, will “begin by ascertaining the facts surrounding the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat”, the statement added.

10:43 AM

Labour calls on minister to apologise for PM’s ‘let bodies pile high’ comment

Labour’s Ian Murray has called on a Cabinet minister to apologise on behalf of Boris Johnson for his alleged remarks that he said ‘let the bodies pile high’.

But Alister Jack, the Scotland Secretary, said he had “no recollection of the Prime Minister being focused on anything other than saving lives and protecting the NHS”.

He told MPs: “On the bodies remark, every conversation I have had with the Prime Minister in the last year, his desire at all levels has been to save lives and protect the NHS.”

Mr Jack added that his boss had been “entirely focused on this pandemic all the way through – he hasn’t been distracted like others have”.

He noted that SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon “admitted taking her eye off the ball – he hasn’t taken his eye off the ball.”

10:39 AM

Boris Johnson is a ‘serial liar’, says MP

The revelations that the Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into the Downing Street flat comes ahead of what is likely to be an explosive PMQs, with opposition MPs lining up to attack the Prime Minister.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, told Radio 4’s Today programme he was “a serial liar”.

“This is a man who isn’t just lying occasionally, he is routinely lying at the dispatch box and that makes it impossible for MPs to hold him to account,” she added.

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, claimed the secrecy over the loan meant “we do not have a Prime Minister in this country that we can be confident is acting in the interests of the British people.”

But Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, told Sky News that the row was simply “the opposition trying to stir it up”, because they did not want to “talk about the success of the vaccine programme”.

10:33 AM

What can the Electoral Commission do?

The Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into the donations used to pay for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, saying it believes “an offence or offences may have occurred”.

But what can this oversight body actually do if it finds that any such funds were not “reported as required”?

Here’s what I’ve been told:

We can’t speculate in relation to specific investigations but we have a range of civil sanctions available to us that we can use if it is appropriate and proportionate to do so. Where we do issue fines, we do so in line with our Enforcement Policy. Our fines range from £200 to our maximum of £20,000.

The Enforcement Policy also states that the Commission can “seek prosecution” if there is sufficient grounds.

10:17 AM

Downing Street flat row ‘isn’t going to end well for Boris’, says Labour MP

The row over who lent the Prime Minister cash for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat “isn’t going to end well for Boris”, Labour’s shadow business minister has said.

Moments ago, the Electoral Commission announced it has launched an investigation into the donations used for the work, saying it believes “an offence or offences may have occurred”.

Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, said: “This isn’t going to end well for Boris. The pleading poverty defence really is a smack in the face for vast majority of Britons.”

Lewisham East MP Janet Daby added: “All eyes on PMQs.”

09:45 AM

Boris Johnson to name Queen’s former private secretary as new standards adviser

One of Lord Geidt’s first tasks in the role will be to scrutinise the long-delayed list of ministers’ interests - Chris Jackson Collection
One of Lord Geidt’s first tasks in the role will be to scrutinise the long-delayed list of ministers’ interests – Chris Jackson Collection

Boris Johnson will name a former private secretary to the Queen as his new ministerial standards adviser, The Daily Telegraph understands.

Lord (Christopher) Geidt, a crossbench peer who served Her Majesty in that position between 2007 and 2017, taking up a seat in the House of Lords after leaving the role, is expected to be confirmed in the role shortly before today’s PMQs.

The announcement has been expected for more than a week, and is likely to be used by Mr Johnson to attempt to draw a line under days of politically damaging front pages, with the local elections less than a fortnight away.

One of Lord Geidt’s first tasks in the role will be to scrutinise the list of Government ministers’ interests, the release of which has been long delayed.

Interest in the list has been heightened by the row over how Mr Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment was paid for and whether it was declared correctly.

09:41 AM

Women at no greater risk from blood clots following AstraZeneca jab, MPs have heard

Women are at no greater risk from blood clots after the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, despite there being more cases and deaths reported in them, MPs have heard.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, told the Science and Technology Committee: “There are two things to consider – the first is the way the vaccine was deployed, particularly in healthcare workers and social care workers.

“The majority of the workforce there is female and so they had higher exposure rates.

“But when you then start relating to the exposure rate in different populations, what you find is that the case incidence rate between male and female is actually very similar.

“So, from our data that we’ve got in the UK, it doesn’t look as if the females are at a higher risk of this adverse event compared to males.”

Sir Munir added: “The only risk factor that we are finding is age in that there is a slightly higher risk in the younger age group compared to the older age group.”

09:29 AM

Prime Minister cannot be expected to ‘live in a skip’, says Michael Gove’s wife

Boris Johnson “can’t be expected to live in a skip”, the wife of Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said.

Sarah Vine said the Prime Minister must live “to a certain standard” and that it is “perfectly reasonable” for him to want to change the colour of his sofa.

Prime ministers are allocated a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested Mr Johnson has spent up to £200,000 on the changes.

No 10 has refused to answer questions on whether Tory HQ or a party donor, Lord Brownlow, either donated or loaned tens of thousands of pounds to the Cabinet Office to pay for the initial flat renovation, before Mr Johnson paid back the cash out of his own pocket.

A Downing St spokesperson issued a statement last night saying: “Any costs of wider refurbishment this year beyond those provided for by the annual allowance have been met by the Prime Minister personally. Conservative Party funds are not being used for this.”

Boris Johnson is under pressure to reveal details of this financing of his Downing Street flat refurbishment - Shutterstock
Boris Johnson is under pressure to reveal details of this financing of his Downing Street flat refurbishment – Shutterstock

Ms Vine told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “The thing about the whole No 10 refurbishment thing is that the Prime Minister can’t be expected to live in a skip.”

The Daily Mail columnist said Mr Johnson is “working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to run the country which is quite a difficult job to do”.

While she does not think the taxpayer should fund such work, she said a “transparent” arrangement for refurbishment is the way forward, such as a “trust” with a “clear budget”.

She added this approach would mean “my husband wouldn’t have to cancel all his very important NHS procurement meetings on an afternoon to go and answer an urgent question about curtains”.

09:09 AM

Arlene Foster fighting for political survival after claims of DUP revolt

Arlene Foster appeared to be fighting for her survival as Northern Ireland’s First Minister on Tuesday night amid claims that dozens of DUP politicians had signed a letter of no confidence in her, writes Harry Yorke.

The letter has not yet been made public but is said to contain the signatures of at least 21 Stormont Assembly members and four MPs, and comes 24 hours after 18 constituency associations submitted letters of concerns.

Arlene Foster has faced mounting criticism over her handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol - PA
Arlene Foster has faced mounting criticism over her handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol – PA

It comes amid mounting frustration within the party over the leadership’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the post-Brexit trading arrangements which have caused significant disruption for traders moving goods across the Irish Sea.

Despite Mrs Foster being a vocal opponent of the protocol and demanding it be scrapped, some in the party believe she failed to take a hard enough stance over what they believe to be a “betrayal” by Boris Johnson.

Read the full story here.

08:54 AM

Madeline Grant: In SNP Scotland, do the facts matter any more?

The SNP fear spooking moderate swing voters with talk of radical change - Reuters
The SNP fear spooking moderate swing voters with talk of radical change – Reuters

In the comic sci-fi masterpiece The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the giant supercomputer Deep Thought calculates that the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” is the number 42, writes Madeline Grant.

Similarly, members of the Scottish National Party have long favoured a single response, providing the perfect riposte to any criticism flung their way. It is Independence.Their interpretation possesses a gloriously irrefutable circular logic. Problems in Holyrood can usually be blamed on some combination of Westminster, the Tories, or Tory austerity – and, by extension, not enough independence. Any Whitehall failure further vindicates the case for independence. It is a cynical strategy, but it has helped them dodge accountability with remarkable success – even in areas that fall entirely within their remit.Yet the sight of Scottish pubs reopening, though forbidden to sell alcohol and forced to close at 8pm, has coincided with something equally bizarre. Ahead of the Holyrood elections, the SNP has suddenly become curiously reluctant to talk about independence.

Read the rest of Madeline’s latest column here.

08:34 AM

Have your say: Does it matter who gave Boris Johnson a loan?

Labour is making much of the fact that we don’t know who may or may not have given Boris Johnson a loan to cover the costs of the Downing Street flat refurbishment.

Yesterday Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the country should know who he was “beholden to”, adding: “Who is loaning you the money to buy your cushions, your sofa, the bed you sleep in at night?”

Colleague Lisa Nandy picked up on that refrain this morning, saying the country must know who Mr Johnson “may owe favours to”. Sir Keir Starmer is likely to run with it.

But does it matter? Sir Charles Walker, who is no fan of the PM, has said as long as his constituents aren’t on the hook it is irrelevant, and that is certainly the argument being pushed by Number 10.

Have your say in the poll below.

08:28 AM

Analysis: BBC breaks rank over Boris Johnson – but is it being used in a revenge game?

It was a subtle yet significant shift in the way the BBC and ITV report political stories, writes Camilla Tominey.

The state broadcaster and its commercial rival would ordinarily shy away from confirming newspaper reports that had been categorically denied by Downing Street.

Yet in the case of Boris Johnson allegedly declaring that he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a third lockdown, both appear to have made an intriguing exception.

On Monday, the Prime Minister completely rebuffed claims he had made the controversial remark last autumn after agreeing to a second lockdown – answering “no” when asked if he uttered the comment. It came after he had earlier branded the reports “total, total rubbish”.

Yet that did not stop both the BBC and ITV leading their evening news bulletins by citing sources who contradicted the rebuttal of the high-vis jacket-wearing PM, pictured below.

Read the rest of Camilla’s analysis here.

08:16 AM

Hugging from June: Hopes rekindled by Government adviser

People may be able to hug their loved ones after June 21, a Government scientific adviser has said, as a new study shows a single jab cuts virus transmission by up to half.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, said it was “a political decision rather than an epidemiological decision”, although noted there was confusion about what the lifting of “legal limits on contact” meant.

Dr Tildesley told Times Radio: “Whether that means that on that date some social distancing will be in place or whether all of those will be removed and you’ll be able to go and hug your loved ones…

“If you’re both vaccinated, of course, it does reduce the risk of anyone becoming severely ill and my hope is that as we move towards that June date, we will be in a position that we can not just see our loved ones, but also we can hug our loved ones because it’s been a very long time since we’ve been able to do that.”

It comes as a new study from Public Health England (PHE) shows that a single dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines can slash virus transmission by up to half.

08:13 AM

British people cannot be sure Boris Johnson is acting in their interests, says Labour MP

Lisa Nandy said 'somebody is lying' about the flat fund row - Getty
Lisa Nandy said ‘somebody is lying’ about the flat fund row – Getty

The country cannot be sure that Boris Johnson is “acting in the interests of the British people”, a Labour frontbencher has said.

Lisa Nandy, shadow foreign secretary, told Sky News: “The problem with what has gone on over the flat is we still don’t know who loaned the Prime Minister this money, he won’t even confirm or deny whether it was loaned or not, we don’t know why he didn’t declare it and we don’t know what he offered them in return.

“The reason those rules are there is so we know who powerful figures are beholden to, who they may owe favours to so we can properly scrutinise and check that they’re not acting in the interests of a privileged few over and above the majority of people in this country.

“At the moment, we do not have a Prime Minister in this country that we can be confident is acting in the interests of the British people, that’s just unacceptable.”

Mr Johnson should “come clean about who offered him money, who he took money from, and what he owes them in return”, she added, saying “somebody is lying”.

08:06 AM

Matt Hancock to give Downing Street press conference today

Matt Hancock will give the Downing Street press conference this evening - UK Parliament
Matt Hancock will give the Downing Street press conference this evening – UK Parliament

Matt Hancock will lead a Downing Street press conference this afternoon.

The Health Secretary will no doubt want to focus on the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout, after it was announced yesterday that a quarter of the adult population of the UK have received both jabs.

Yesterday also saw the programme progress to those aged 42 and over.

But he’ll be unlikely to escape without questions on sleaze, the Downing Street flat and why the UK isn’t doing more to help India.

07:46 AM

Downing Street flat donations row ‘a story of the past’, says Grant Shapps

The row over who made an initial loan to cover the costs of the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat is “a story of the past”, Grant Shapps has said.

The Transport Secretary told Radio 4’s Today programme the Prime Minister “has met the costs of the refurbishment”, adding that “if all the details set out that would be helpful, and the Cabinet Secretary will do exactly that.

“The most important thing is the Prime Minister has paid for it, and the annual report and accounts from cab office will set out all the details as well,” he added.

Challenged over where the initial loan came from, and “what they want in return”, the former party chairman said “the fact that Prime Minister has paid for the wider refurbishment costs does render it, if anything, a story of the past.”

He noted there was “a slightly unusual situation of living above the shop” which made the idea of setting up a trust to cover costs a “perfectly sensible, rational idea”.

07:38 AM

Brexit vote ‘the final step in a long journey’, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has welcomed the “final step in a long journey”, after the European Parliament voted to approve the Brexit trade deal.

The Prime Minister said: “This week is the final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.

“Now is the time to look forward to the future and to building a more Global Britain.”

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07:29 AM

Lord Frost hails ‘new chapter’ as Brexit deal gets Brussels sign-off

Lord Frost has hailed the beginning of a “new chapter” in UK-EU relations after the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve the trade deal.

The Brexit minister said he “hugely” welcomed the overwhelming vote in favour of the trade deal and thanked former counterpart Michel Barnier and the European Commission for “helping us get here”.

“Hope we can now begin a new chapter together as Europeans, characterised by friendly co-operation between sovereign equals,” he added.

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07:25 AM

Lord Lister quit before sleaze row

Lord Udny-Lister had been one of the names in the frame to replace Dominic Cummings - NurPhoto
Lord Udny-Lister had been one of the names in the frame to replace Dominic Cummings – NurPhoto

Boris Johnson’s longest-serving aide has insisted he quit Downing Street before the row over second jobs and sleaze surfaced.

Lord Udny-Lister, the 71-year-old who has worked with the Prime Minister since his time as London Mayor, told Politico it was “the right time for me to go” and had handed in his notice three months ago. His departure was only made public on Friday.

“My letters were in, the agreement was done — all of that was sorted,” he said.

Lord Udny-Lister had been one of the names in the frame to replace Dominic Cummings as Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, but sources at the time suggested he was looking to reduce, rather than increase, his workload. He subsequently became the PM’s Gulf envoy.

“I thought that was quite a good role as a part-time role. But it was quite clear that wasn’t going to work as a part-time role. You’ve either got to be in Government 100 percent or out of Government. There isn’t a half-way house.”

07:17 AM

European Parliament votes to approve Brexit trade deal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised MEPs the deal had "teeth" - EPA
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised MEPs the deal had “teeth” – EPA

The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to approve the UK and European Union’s post-Brexit trade deal.

Yesterday Ursula von der Leyen stressed that the Brexit trade deal has “real teeth” as MEPs branded leaving the EU a “historic mistake”.

Mrs von der Leyen said: “This agreement comes with real teeth with a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for unilateral remedial measures were necessary. And let me be very clear. We do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary.”

The European Commission president said that Brussels would not hesitate to hit Britain with trade tariffs if it failed to implement its commitments in Northern Ireland, before the European Parliament voted to ratify the deal in the final step of the years-long Brexit negotiations.

07:10 AM

Data ‘looks good’ for international travel to restart mid-May, says Shapps

The Transport Secretary has said the “data does continue to look good” for reopening the UK’s borders from mid-May – although cautioned that Covid cases in other countries could hinder global travel.

Grant Shapps told Sky News he was pressing ahead with plans for a traffic lights system to come into force from May 17, but would not be able to confirm which countries are given the green light for another “couple of weeks”, owing to the uncertain outlook overseas.

“Beyond our shores seeing highest levels of coronavirus we have seen so far, right now, so we do need to make sure we do this very carefully,” he said.

The four factors will include vaccine rates, Covid rates, variations and “how accurate we believe their reporting to be, which is absolutely essential”. He noted that in the UK “we take it for granted” that figures are independently verified.

Concerns are growing that India, which is in the grip of another wave, is suffering a daily death toll that is actually 20 times higher than official figures.

07:05 AM

NHS app will form basis of vaccine passport, says Grant Shapps

The NHS app will act as a digital Covid vaccine passport for international travel, Grant Shapps has confirmed.

The Transport Secretary told Sky News: “In terms of vaccine certification, I can confirm we are working on an NHS application, actually it will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on, to be able to show you’ve had a vaccine or you’ve had testing.

“I’m working internationally with partners across the world to make sure that system can be internationally recognised, as that’s the way forward.

“Actually, I’m chairing a meeting of the G7 secretaries of state for transport, my equivalents from America and Canada and all the G7 countries, next week on exactly this subject.”

07:02 AM

India wouldn’t have any vaccine without UK’s help, minister insists

A Cabinet minister has defended the decision not to share surplus vaccine supplies with India, saying the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab “simply wouldn’t exist” without the UK’s R&D support.

Grant Shapps fended off accusations that the UK was not doing enough to help the country, which recorded 360,000 new daily infections – a global record – and over 3,000 deaths on Wednesday.

India’s official death toll is now pushing towards 200,000, but many states are only recording Covid-19 fatalities if there are no comorbidities. Some estimates put the current daily death toll at 20 times higher than official figures.

Pressed on why the UK isn’t doing more, Mr Shapps said: “One of the biggest things we have done in response to these heart-breaking images is to be the country that researched, developed and produced the vaccine they used in India.

The Transport Secretary added: “Actually, thanks to the Oxford research and AZ approach, the way this has been licensed -unlike other very successful vaccines like Pfizer, this is being made without profit. That is way bigger than any other country’s contribution.”

06:57 AM

Self driving cars will help save lives, says Grant Shapps

Self-driving cars will not be introduced unless they are safer than having drivers behind the wheel, the Transport Secretary has said.

Grant Shapps told Sky News: “It will be safer than people driving and if it’s not, then we won’t do it.

“This isn’t about the kind of cars that are already available, this isn’t about a self-driving Tesla or something, those would not qualify currently for full self-driving capability. Instead, this is about new technology, new types of car.”

Mr Shapps said that around 85% of the 1,800 road deaths in the UK yearly are due to driver error.

“The deaths come from primarily errors made by human beings, because we’re all human, and I just think if we’re ever going to drive that down lower, we can’t turn our back on technology,” he said.

06:39 AM

Sir James Dyson exclusive: BBC twisted the truth over my links to the Tories

Sir James Dyson: BBC twisted the truth over my links to the Tories - AFP
Sir James Dyson: BBC twisted the truth over my links to the Tories – AFP

Sir James Dyson has accused the BBC of a “grotesque mischaracterisation” of his links to the Conservative Party as he denied acting inappropriately over his texts with Boris Johnson.

Speaking for the first time since the row over his messages broke last week, the British inventor and businessman said it was untrue he tried to “extract favours from the Prime Minister”.

The messages, revealed by the BBC last Wednesday, showed Sir James sought clarification from Mr Johnson on UK tax matters related to building ventilators during the pandemic.

It thrust a spotlight on how figures in the private sector communicate with the Prime Minister and raised questions about how such requests are handled inside government.

Writing for the Telegraph, inventor says it is untrue that he was a major donor and that he tried to ‘extract favours from Boris Johnson’

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