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Calls grow for Commons sleaze watchdog to launch official inquiry into PM’s flat refurb

Calls grow for Commons sleaze watchdog to launch official inquiry into PM’s flat refurb

The Prime Minister is facing increasing pressure over the refurbishment of his flat which is set to become the focus of the latest probe by the Commons sleaze watchdog.

The Standards Committee has been urged to investigate how the refurbishment of Boris Johnson‘s flat was funded after it was revealed Tory donor Lord Brownlow paid an invoice to cover some of the costs.

This meant he effectively gave Mr Johnson a loan, before the PM eventually settled the bill himself – only after the Daily Mail published a string of exposes. 

It comes as Boris Johnson is expected to face calls for a public inquiry into allegations of Tory sleaze as MPs consider how to clean up Westminster following the Owen Paterson row.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister should apologise to the nation and ‘clean out the filthy Augean stable he has created’.

The Commons will spend three hours hearing an emergency debate on the situation, despite ministers seeking to dismiss the row as a ‘storm in a teacup’.

Boris Johnson is facing increased scrutiny over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat which is set to be the next focus of an investigation by the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog

Boris Johnson is facing increased scrutiny over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat which is set to be the next focus of an investigation by the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog

Boris Johnson is facing increased scrutiny over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat which is set to be the next focus of an investigation by the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog 

A senior minister had suggested Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone may have to resign after MPs voted to ignore findings in regards to disgraced Owen Paterson

A senior minister had suggested Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone may have to resign after MPs voted to ignore findings in regards to disgraced Owen Paterson

A senior minister had suggested Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone may have to resign after MPs voted to ignore findings in regards to disgraced Owen Paterson

The Liberal Democrats, who secured the debate, have called for a statutory public inquiry into sleaze and corruption allegations.

The refurbishments to the Prime Minister’s flat sparked sustained scrutiny of his finances earlier this year, with the works vastly exceeding the £30,000 annual limit afforded to the Prime Minister. 

The refit was said to be ‘inspired’ by upmarket interior designer Lulu Lytle and is believed to have cost a six-figure sum.

Now, critics have urged Kathryn Stone, the head of the Standards Committee to investigate the matter. 

Stone appeared to be on shaky ground in her role last week after MPs, lead by Boris Johnson, voted to overrule her finding that former minister Owen Paterson had carried out ‘egregious’ lobbying for private companies which paid him more than £500,000.

One senior minister had suggested Stone may be forced to resign but within hours, Boris Johnson had performed a U-turn and shelved plans to reform the current standards investigation process.

Johnson commissioned interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured) whose gold wallpaper can cost as much as £840 a roll. Tory donor Lord Brownlow initially paid an invoice to over some of the costs before he settled the bill himself and how the revamp was funded is set to be scrutinised

Johnson commissioned interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured) whose gold wallpaper can cost as much as £840 a roll. Tory donor Lord Brownlow initially paid an invoice to over some of the costs before he settled the bill himself and how the revamp was funded is set to be scrutinised

Johnson commissioned interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured) whose gold wallpaper can cost as much as £840 a roll. Tory donor Lord Brownlow initially paid an invoice to over some of the costs before he settled the bill himself and how the revamp was funded is set to be scrutinised

Boris Johnson, pictured here with his wife Carrie during the G7 summit, Cornwall in June, is facing a new sleaze probe, this time in relation to the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat

Boris Johnson, pictured here with his wife Carrie during the G7 summit, Cornwall in June, is facing a new sleaze probe, this time in relation to the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat

Boris Johnson, pictured here with his wife Carrie during the G7 summit, Cornwall in June, is facing a new sleaze probe, this time in relation to the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat

The Prime Minister has since been forced to deny claims that his botched effort to overhaul the standards process had been a ‘pre-emptive’ strike on Kathryn Stone. 

Labour has asked the standards commissioner Ms Stone to examine whether the Prime Minister breached Commons rules by failing to declare a temporary loan that paid for his flat refurbishment. 

It is understood that the commissioner will make a decision on whether to launch an inquiry into the funding of the refurbishment as soon as a separate probe being conducted by the Electoral Commission has been completed.

The Commission has handed over its initial findings to Tory party chiefs who now have an opportunity to respond.

George Eustice last night urged the Commons sleaze chief not to probe the lavish revamp of the Downing Street flat. 

The Environment Secretary said the matter had already been investigated by Lord Geidt, the Prime Minister’s adviser on standards, who found Mr Johnson had acted ‘unwisely’ without breaking the ministerial code. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘It was very much put to bed.’

Tory poll lead plunges FIVE POINTS in the wake of Owen Paterson shambles 

Boris Johnson is struggling to contain mounting fury on Tory benches today as a poll laid bare the damage inflicted by his bungled effort to save ally Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying.

Research by YouGov carried out in the wake of the dramatic Commons vote to suspend the standards system showed the Tory poll lead plunging by five points.

The party is now just one point ahead of Labour, after dropping from 39 per cent to 36 per cent in a week, while Keir Starmer has seen a boost to 35 per cent, according to the survey in The Times.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi tried to cool the growing backlash among MPs this morning, admitting that the government ‘made a mistake’ in retrospectively tying Mr Paterson’s case to wider reforms.

Meanwhile, a blame game is in full swing over who was responsible for the meltdown – which culminated last night when Mr Paterson resigned from the Commons after the PM cut him loose. His exit was made official this morning when he was appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead – the traditional way for MPs to quit the House. 

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It is understood that Miss Stone will make a decision after the Electoral Commission has completed a separate probe.

An inquiry by Miss Stone would be the third probe into the matter if she goes ahead. Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner requested in June that she investigate. 

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide, last week claimed in a tweet that the Government’s bid to change the standards process to spare Mr Paterson from being punished was actually ‘a pre-emptive strike by [the] PM on [the] EC (Electoral Commission) and [Miss] Stone’.

But No 10 denied the planned overhaul had been designed to protect Mr Johnson’s own interests.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly clashed with Parliament’s sleaze watchdogs. In July, he was criticised for failing to explain promptly how a £15,000 holiday in Mustique was paid for.

He was also found by Miss Stone to have breached the code of conduct over the 2020 New Year break but escaped with a slap on the wrist as the committee on standards overruled her.

The committee said it was nevertheless ‘regrettable’ that a full explanation was not given before.

The probe began in February last year after the Mail revealed there were questions over who paid for the PM’s ten-day stay on the luxury Caribbean island. He had claimed the £15,000 cost of his accommodation was a gift from Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross.

But the multimillionaire businessman said he did not own the villa and had not paid for it use.

Following an investigation, Miss Stone found Mr Johnson breached the MPs’ code by having not ‘fulfilled conscientiously’ requirements for registering the stay.

After the committee received the commissioner’s report, its chairman Labour MP Chris Bryant wrote to Mr Johnson and Mr Ross demanding more information.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

Owen Paterson

Owen Paterson

Mr Johnson (left) first ordered Tory MPs to ram through plans to tear up Parliament’s anti-sleaze rules to save Mr Paterson (right), before abandoning the idea in the face of a public outcry. 

Their replies revealed an ‘ad hoc arrangement’ under which the Mustique Company paid the owners of the villa Mr Johnson stayed in and Mr Ross reimbursed them.

So the committee concluded Mr Ross was the funder of Mr Johnson’s accommodation, meaning the PM’s first declaration was accurate.

But it said: ‘This matter could have been concluded many months ago if more strenuous efforts had been made to dispel the uncertainty.’

Boris Johnson is expected to face calls for a public inquiry into allegations of Tory sleaze as MPs consider how to clean up Westminster following the Owen Paterson row. 

The Commons will spend three hours hearing an emergency debate on the situation, despite ministers seeking to dismiss the row as a ‘storm in a teacup’.

The Liberal Democrats, who secured the debate, have called for a statutory public inquiry into sleaze and corruption allegations.

Pictured: Research by YouGov carried out in the wake of the dramatic Commons vote to suspend the standards system showed the Conservative poll lead plunging by five points

Pictured: Research by YouGov carried out in the wake of the dramatic Commons vote to suspend the standards system showed the Conservative poll lead plunging by five points

Pictured: Research by YouGov carried out in the wake of the dramatic Commons vote to suspend the standards system showed the Conservative poll lead plunging by five points

The inquiry, which would have the power to summon witnesses and take evidence under oath, would examine not only the Paterson row but also the awarding of coronavirus contracts, whether Mr Johnson’s holidays in villas provided by friends were properly declared, and how the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat was funded.

A debate was granted last week by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle following Tory attempts to block an immediate 30-day suspension for Mr Paterson over an ‘egregious’ breach of lobbying rules.

Conservative MPs were ordered instead to back the creation of a Tory-led committee to look again at Mr Paterson’s case and the whole standards system.

But after a backlash the Government performed a U-turn and Mr Paterson subsequently quit as an MP, leaving what he called the ‘cruel world of politics’.

Reports at the weekend suggested the Speaker may put forward his own proposals for reform of the standards process in an effort to take some of the increasingly bitter politics out of the row.

Ahead of the emergency debate, Sir Keir said the Prime Minister must publicly confirm that former Cabinet minister Mr Paterson will not be nominated for a peerage.

Downing Street sources have indicated there is no intention for Mr Paterson to be given a seat in the Upper Chamber.

Sir Keir will lead the debate for Labour, but Mr Johnson is expected to hand Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg the job of representing the Government.

‘Boris Johnson needs to attend this debate, answer for his mistakes, apologise to the country and take action to undo the damage he has done,’ Sir Keir said.

‘The country is yet to hear a word of contrition over his attempts to create one rule for him and his friends and another for everyone else. He must now come to the House and say sorry.’

The Liberal Democrats pushed for a change to Commons rules to prevent any MPs being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from voting on or proposing amendments to motions related to disciplinary issues.

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said it was ‘the equivalent of defendants in a court case also taking part in the jury’.

She added: ‘Time and again Government ministers have refused to properly investigate allegations of sleaze, failed to declare relevant meetings and donations and tried to rig the system to cover their own backs.

‘We need an independent public inquiry, with the powers and resources to get to the bottom of this Conservative sleaze scandal.’

Tory MPs, who have been contacted by furious constituents about the situation, remain angry at the handling of the Paterson case and relations have not been helped by Environment Secretary George Eustice’s claim that it was a ‘Westminster storm in a teacup’. 

Source: dailymail

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