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Tory party co-chair Amanda Milling has claimed the party’s HQ behaves transparently in reporting its donations when challenged over who initially paid for the Downing Street flat refurbishment.
The senior Conservative and close ally of the Prime Minister told PoliticsHome that they report everything to the Electoral Commission as they are required to do.
The commission announced on Wednesday that it will investigate the party after it said in a statement that they believed there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred” in relation to the flat’s financing.
The Prime Minister said he will personally comply with the inquiry and said in interviews today that he did not think there was “anything to see here”, and the government and the public’s priority is the vaccine rollout.
Asked if the Conservative Party head office initially paid for the Downing Street flat overspend, Milling said: “We’ve been really clear in terms of transparency. We report everything transparently to the Electoral Commission, and they publish everything in terms of donations.
“Obviously, the Electoral Commission have announced that they’re going to go on investigation so because of that we won’t be making any further comments.”
Milling shares the chairmanship with Ben Elliot, a nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall. The Daily Mail has reported that he was told in October that a £58,000 donation had been made for the refurbishment of the four-bedroom flat. He may be questioned as part of the inquiry.
Former aide Dominic Cummings wrote in a recent blog post that he thought attempts to cover the cost of the redecoration were unethical and possibly illegal. The Prime Minister is said to have tasked civil servants into setting up a specific trust to cover costs.
Johnson gets £30,000 a year to spend on the maintenance of his flat at No 11 Downing Street, where he lives with his fiancé Carrie Symonds and their baby son.
Their expensive makeover by interior designer Lulu Lytle cost far more than that, and although the Prime Minister said he has paid for it personally, questions remain over who footed the bill initially and whether this was the tax-payer or a donor, and if a loan was involved.
Johnson was given the opportunity at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons yesterday to say who it was but chose not to.
There is speculation that the Cabinet Office initially footed the bill, and Conservative Campaign Headquarters paid them back, using money from a party donor, Lord Brownlow, who may have given a donation of £58,000 to cover the flat refurbishment.
Under Electoral Commission rules, political parties have to register within 28 days any donations or loans that could influence their actions.
If the party has breached the rules on donations they could face a fine of up to £20,000.
It was put to Milling that The Electoral Commission has said they need to look into the matter, despite her claims that they have been clear and transparent.
She said: “All our donations are reported in the way we have to do and the Prime Minister has also been clear that he paid for the refurbishment of the flat.”
Asked again if CCHQ paid for the work initially, she said: “At this stage there is a formal investigation so we’re not making further comment on that.”
It was suggested in Politico’s London Playbook newsletter today that if the commission is unable to determine whether a mistake was made in good faith or conscious foul play then it could be referred to the police.
Milling, who is in charge of the party’s England and Wales local election campaign, said the issue is not one coming up on the doorsteps and people are focused on the issues that matter to their area.
Asked if she thought the debacle over the Prime Minister’s flat refurbishment could have an impact on May 6, she said: “We’ve been out and about for several weeks now and over the last few days but I think the main thing people have been talking to us about are the things that really matter to them in their locality.”