A businessman involved in a cash-for-access scandal has donated more than £500,000 to the Conservative party after being made a peer by Boris Johnson.
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The Labour Party has written to the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission to call for an "urgent investigation" into donations received by the Conservatives.
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An investigation by Insider has revealed nearly £30,000 in donations were received by the Conservative Party from companies that were no longer trading.
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Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended plans to require photographic identification to vote — by comparing it to a ban on MPs wearing hats.The government is set to require people to produce proof of their identity when voting in elections.It has been attacked by MPs on all sides amid fears it will disproportionately stop already marginalised groups from voting. Government figures show while 76% of white people have driving licence, only 53% of Black people do. Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader, has condemned it as a “total b*****ks” idea.It has also been compared to voter suppression tactics used by the Republican Party in the United States.Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, Labour’s shadow leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire, described it as an “attack on democracy”.She asked Rees-Mogg: “Will the Leader of the House please explain to his own constituents why they can’t vote by giving their name to a clerk and being counted by a teller when this is how their own MP votes in this place — in normal times at least.”Rees-Mogg said it was “important that elections are fair and proper”.He added: “We don’t have to prove who we are when voting in the division lobbies in normal circumstances.“But she’s forgetting that we’re not allowed to wear overcoats in the division lobbies just in case we send somebody through to vote in our place or indeed – as Mr Speaker helpfully says – hats.“So therefore there are requirements in this place to prevent impersonation.”Speaking to ITV, Davidson said of the voter ID plan: “I think it’s total b*****ks. I think it’s trying to give a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, and that makes it politics as performance.“And I think that given where we are and the year we’ve had, we’ve got real problems to solve in this country, and the idea that this is some sort of legislative priority I think is for the birds.”Mat Hancock, he health secretary, also earlier this week admitted there were only six cases of ballot fraud at the 2019 election. But he said this was “six cases too many”.The Electoral Commission has said there was just one conviction in 2017 of “personation” a polling station. There were none in 2018.Related...Rachel Reeves Ditches Labour’s ‘Don’t Mention The War’ Approach To BrexitNo.10 Admits Secret 'Lessons Learned' Review Of Covid Pandemic Has Been Conducted
Downing Street has refused to deny claims that Boris Johnson approached Tory donors to help pay the costs of childcare for his son.The prime minister’s official spokesperson would only say that Johnson “covered the cost” of childcare for Wilfred, his son with fiancee Carrie Symonds.But they would not say whether the PM had approached Tory donors about helping with the costs, or whether he had been given money by donors to then cover the costs.On Monday, Johnson refused to deny the claims while on a visit in Hartlepool, insisting that “all this kind of stuff is, in my view, exclusively for the interest of the Westminster bubble”.But it comes with the Tories embroiled in what Labour is calling “sleaze” allegations, and amid concerns about the potential undue influence of donors on Johnson.Last week, the Electoral Commission announced an investigation into who paid for the refurbishment of Johnson and Symonds’ Downing Street flat, amid claims that Tory donors were asked to help with the bill which reportedly ran into tens of thousands of pounds.There are also several other probes in government and in parliament into lobbying and donations.Asked on Monday to deny that Tory donors were approached to pay for Johnson’s childcare, the PM’s spokesperson said: “The prime minister has covered all the costs of all childcare and I’ve got nothing more to add to that.”Asked if Johnson was paying out of his own pocket or if he has been given money from donors to cover the cost of childcare, the spokesperson said: “I’ve got nothing more to add. The prime minister has covered all costs.”Pressed on whether the PM approached donors to pay for childcare, but that the proposal did not end up going ahead, the spokesperson replied: “What I’m saying is the prime minister has covered all costs of childcare, I’m not adding anymore to that.”The government has no imminent plans to boost the childcare support on offer for the wider public, the spokesperson suggested.“The government’s policies on providing childcare to parents are well established and in fact well taken up,” they said.Related...Boris Johnson Does Not Think People 'Deserve Truth' Over Flat Refurb, Says Labour's Lisa NandyNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Effectively Held Hostage By Iran, Says Dominic RaabScottish Tory Leader Says Boris Johnson Should Resign If He Broke Ministerial Rules
Boris Johnson is “withholding information” over the revamp of his Downing Street flat and believes “rules don’t apply to him”, says Labour’s Lisa Nandy. The shadow foreign secretary hit out at the prime minister’s “arrogance” on Sunday, claiming he does not believe the public “deserve truth” over the expensive renovation of his official residence at Number 11. Johnson has insisted he “met the cost” personally but has pointedly refused to answer questions on whether a Tory donor initially loaned him £58,000 - something which, if true, the PM should have openly declared.Nandy’s punchy attack came as Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross broke ranks and said Johnson should resign if he is found to have broken the ministerial code. Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Nandy said the public needed to know who Johnson may feel he owed as a result of any loan. “There’s an arrogance at the heart of this that he seems to believe that we don’t deserve to know the truth about what goes on in government,” she said. “We need to know who the prime minister is beholden to, we need to know what he has promised in return.“If the prime minister is beholden to other people, who is he not serving? That’s the people of this country.“This is about integrity, it’s about trust, and it’s about whether there’s one rule for them and one rule for everyone else.”The Electoral Commission, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into whether the PM broke electoral law.Downing Street underlined last week , however, that Johnson remained the he “ultimate arbitrator” of the ministerial code and therefore had the final say on whether he broke the rules. Nandy added it was clear Johnson was “withholding information” from the public.“It’s appalling we are in a position where he won’t come clean about who loaned him money or gave him money, and what favours or promises may have been given in return,” she said. "There's an arrogance at the heart of this"Lisa Nandy says the PM "seems to believe that we don't deserve to know the truth about what goes on in government, adding "at the moment, we don't know who the Prime Minister is beholden to" #RidgeRead more: https://t.co/kxi8gw8kX0pic.twitter.com/3SbpmWcr7f— Sophy Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) May 2, 2021“We already know that this is a prime minister who frankly thinks that the rules don’t apply to him and his friends. He is quite happy for his cabinet ministers to break the ministerial code and then not resign, he is quite happy for his advisers to drive around the country with Covid in the middle of lockdown and not resign.“I think people are angry, actually, that in a year when we have all followed the rules, often at great personal cost, we have followed the rules because we know that the rules matter, and yet over and over again we have seen a prime minister who seems to think that the rules don’t apply to him.”Claims also emerged on Sunday that Johnson sought help from Tory donors for childcare. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said he has “no idea” if this were true but  dismissed the allegation as “tittle tattle”.“I have no idea, you don’t have conversations like that with the PM,” he said. “I can’t comment on every little bit of gossip that’s in the newspapers.“The last thing you asked me about, I think, is an example of tittle tattle.”Asked if there was a second invoice for refurbishments of the prime minister’s Downing Street flat settled directly with a supplier, he said: “As the prime minister has set out this week, he covered the cost himself, he’s followed all the relevant codes of conduct at all relevant times, he took official advice all along the way.“There are three reviews now, I think, into this and I think the right thing for me to do is not add political commentary that could otherwise prejudice those reviews, but to respect the integrity of them, so I’m not going to offer you, I’m afraid, any more commentary, or if you like chatter, on the various different reports and speculation that I see in the Sunday papers.”A No 10 spokeswoman said the prime minister “has covered the cost of all childcare”, but did not respond when asked if he paid for the original bill himself or had reimbursed somebody else.As well as pressure over the renovations, Johnson has been forced to deny saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose a third coronavirus lockdown, on top of a lobbying row and allegations of cronyism.Although earlier polls suggested the “sleaze” allegations were not significantly denting public support for the Tories, two fresh surveys gave evidence to the contrary ahead of the local elections in England and votes for the parliaments in Scotland and Wales.The Conservatives fell to a five-point lead over Labour, with 42% compared to 37%, according to the Opinium poll of more than 2,000 adults between Wednesday and Friday.That put the Tories down two points and Labour up four compared to a week earlier, halving the Conservatives’ lead ahead of the elections, in which some 48 million people are eligible to vote.And in separate polling, Focaldata put Labour on 39%, one point behind the Tories, who previously had a healthy lead, according to The Sunday Times.Johnson has denied breaking any laws over the refurbishment of his residence and insisted he had paid “personally” for the works. Related...Scottish Tory Leader Says Boris Johnson Should Resign If He Broke Ministerial RulesShould Boris Johnson Worry About The Departure Of NHS Chief Simon Stevens?Why Boris Johnson’s Alleged Sleaze Matters Even If The Polls Don’t Move Yet
Boris Johnson should resign if he broke ministerial rules over his Downing Street flat, the Scottish Tory leader has said. The intervention by Douglas Ross came as the the prime minister continued to face questions over whether a Tory donor originally loaned him money to redecorate his official residence. Pressed on whether Johnson should resign if he breached the ministerial code over the so-called “cash for curtains” scandal, Ross said: “Of course.“I think people expect the highest standards of those in the highest office of the land and that’s why people are looking at the investigations that are ongoing and waiting for the answers to be heard.” The prime minister receives an annual public grant of £30,000 to spend on his living quarters, but it has been claimed the final bill for the lavish revamp reached £200,000. Johnson has maintained he “met the cost” of the refurbishment personally, but the Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into whether the PM broke electoral law and £58,000 was loaned. Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said it was clear Johnson was “withholding information” from the public.She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “It’s appalling we are in a position where he won’t come clean about who loaned him money or gave him money, and what favours or promises may have been given in return.“We already know that this is a prime minister who frankly thinks that the rules don’t apply to him and his friends. He is quite happy for his cabinet ministers to break the ministerial code and then not resign, he is quite happy for his advisers to drive around the country with Covid in the middle of lockdown and not resign.The PM lives at Number 11 Downing Street with his partner Carrie Symonds and their baby son Wilfred. There were also fresh claims on Sunday that Johnson asked Tory donors fo fund childcare. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said he has “no idea” if this were true and dismissed the allegation as “tittle tattle”.He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I have no idea, you don’t have conversations like that with the PM. I can’t comment on every little bit of gossip that’s in the newspapers.“The last thing you asked me about, I think, is an example of tittle tattle.”Asked if there was a second invoice for refurbishments of the PM’s Downing Street flat settled directly with a supplier, he said: “As the prime minister has set out this week, he covered the cost himself, he’s followed all the relevant codes of conduct at all relevant times, he took official advice all along the way.“There are three reviews now, I think, into this and I think the right thing for me to do is not add political commentary that could otherwise prejudice those reviews, but to respect the integrity of them, so I’m not going to offer you, I’m afraid, any more commentary, or if you like chatter, on the various different reports and speculation that I see in the Sunday papers.”Related...Why Boris Johnson’s Alleged Sleaze Matters Even If The Polls Don’t Move YetShould Boris Johnson Worry About The Departure Of NHS Chief Simon Stevens?Watchdog Must Carry Out Boris Johnson Flat Probe ‘Quickly’, Senior Tory Says
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Despite the fire and fury of this week’s prime minister’s questions, it seems the cash for cushions row has so far amounted to little but a pillow fight in the eyes of voters.Several polls in the last 24 hours have shown Tory numbers barely moving, with Labour’s even slightly down despite the sleaze allegations engulfing Boris Johnson.And in a much less scientific test, a red wall Tory MP tells me they have had just 10 emails on the row over the past week from concerned voters.Normally, we might give it a few more days before delivering a judgment on the impact of the row.But the impending local elections next Thursday have led to a painful debate about whether it has had so-called “cut through” with the public.Patrick English of YouGov tells me there is no doubt that it has, with nearly a third (31%) of the public following the story fairly or very closely, and a further 27% following it, if not closely.The depressing truth seems that voters’ trust in politicians generally, and Johnson particularly, is so low that a row like this is “baked in”, says English.“It’s not that they don’t care, or that they don’t want them to do it, they just sort of shrug and say they expect it from politicians.”This has inevitably led to questions about whether Starmer has got his strategy right ahead of his first key electoral test.The red wall Tory tells me the sleaze row is coming up more on the doorstep since Starmer’s evisceration of Johnson at prime minister’s questions.But they wonder if his visit to a John Lewis store on Thursday (Carrie Symonds reportedly described the No.11 flat as a “John Lewis furniture nightmare”) may have been a mis-step, as voters are bringing up the row but in a “jokey” way.Meanwhile, Tory election expert Lord Hayward believes Labour have missed opportunities to speak out on issues “which actually do matter to people now”, with jobs under threat at Liberty Steel in a situation linked to the Greensill lobbying scandal, the Toyoda Gosei factory closure in Rotherham and Nestle closing a factory in Newcastle.Hayward says: “What they’ve been so obsessed with is sleaze, which appears in the immediate not to matter, that even issues that are there and matter to people on a day-by-day basis have actually gone by the board.“And that I find absolutely staggering.”Hayward does, however, believe political events can take a week or so to begin affecting polls, so there is time yet for the Labour leader on sleaze.Looking beyond the local elections too, Starmer will have positioned himself as a leader on the issue if the Electoral Commission or other watchdogs punish Johnson or the Tories over the flat.And the underlying numbers are not great for the PM should things go badly, with a YouGov trust rating of –22 and less than half of Tory voters more inclined to believe Johnson over top aide Dominic Cummings, who is promising to damage the PM at his select committee appearance on May 26.English tells Tories: “I definitely wouldn’t be jubilant.“If it just gets worse or if it does not go away, the figures of who is following it is only going to go up, the figures that say ‘I’m aware of it but I don’t care’ are only going to go down.“That does have the potential to be quite harmful, there’s a lot of potential for this to move quickly in the wrong direction for the Tories.”Meanwhile senior Tories, speaking privately this week, fear the collateral damage caused by the sleaze rows. They worry about what happens to the party’s poll numbers when the twin effects of the vaccine bounce and the furlough life support scheme for jobs end, and if stories like this become more important to voters amid job losses.Some even wonder whether Johnson can still carry out the big reshuffle many believe is coming soon, and will root out incompetence in government.Can you sack Robert Jenrick following cronyism allegations when you yourself are facing them? Can you fire Gavin Williamson for incompetence when you can’t even file your register of interests on time? And if you can’t have a better Cabinet, do we see a repeat of the exams fiasco?Starmer, as my colleague Paul Waugh suggested earlier this week, may be able to promote Johnson from “Major Sleaze” to the potentially far more damaging “General Shambles”.Others also worry that a good performance in the local elections next week in the face of the sleaze row can only breed complacency in Downing Street about the need to improve standards in public office.And that could lead to a very bad place, with faith in politics and politicians already so low.Related...Boris Johnson Will Be 'Ultimate Arbiter' In Probe Into Downing Street Flat RefurbMatt Hancock Totally Refuses To Answer Questions On Boris Johnson’s FlatBoris Johnson Dodges Questions About Who Initially Paid To Refurbish His Flat
The election watchdog must carry out its investigation into who funded Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment quickly or risk the perception that it is “playing politics”, a senior Tory has said.Tom Tugendhat told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that the Electoral Commission must prove to be “regulators who are not only independent but are seen to be independent”.The watchdog has said it is satisfied that “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred” relating to the funding of the refurbishment of the No.11 flat.No.10 has refused to say whether Johnson sought an initial loan or donation to cover a reported £58,000-worth of renovations to his residence in No. 11, which he shares with partner Carrie Symonds and their baby son Wilfred.Political donations have to be declared to ensure there are no questions or concerns over politicians or parties being unduly influenced by those giving them money.Tugendhat urged the commission to bring forward any evidence it has of wrongdoing quickly, or to drop the probe.It comes after the watchdog took more than a year between launching an investigation into Tory spending in the 2015 general election and publishing its findings, although that appeared to be a much wider case.Tugendhat told Commons People the commission was an organisation that has “really not always covered itself in glory”.Addressing the watchdog’s assessment that an offence may have been committed, he went on: “It is a certain challenge but I hope very much that if they are making statements like that then they will stand them up quickly.”Tugendhat added: “I’m not in charge of this and the Electoral Commission is an independent organisation and they will have to do what they have to do.“But if they are going to drag it out then it will begin to look like they are playing politics with it and that would be a great shame.“Because what we need to have is independent regulators who are not only independent but are seen to be independent.“So if they’ve got evidence, fine, bring it forward, publish, and if you don’t, drop it.”The Commons foreign affairs committee chair was also asked whether he believes Johnson’s denial that he said in autumn that he would rather see “bodies piled high” than order another lockdown, and also the PM’s statements about the flat.Tugendhat replied: “I think we’ve got to take the prime minister at his word.“We all know what he’s like, he hasn’t changed in 25-30 years.“None of this is a surprise.”Asked how Johnson has been in those 25-30 years, the MP replied: “He’s been somebody who expresses himself with bonomie and with a certain lightness and that’s what we’re seeing.”Tugendhat also said Tory candidates gearing up for next week’s local elections would rather be speaking about policy issues than the various allegations against Johnson.“I’ve been speaking to a lot of candidates who would wish that the focus was on what they were trying to achieve for their communities, of course they do,” he said.“And I sympathise with them, because there’s a lot of people who have worked extremely hard for four years who are trying to explain to their friends and neighbours exactly what they are going to do over the next four and that’s what really matters.”Earlier, Johnson said he would “comply” with the Electoral Commission inquiry.“I don’t think there is anything to see here, or worry about,” he told reporters.Related...Boris Johnson Says There Is 'Nothing To See Here' In Downing Street Flat RowBoris Johnson Tries To 'Dodge' Covid Bereaved In Late Night Dash To Memorial WallBoris Johnson Shows Why You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Angry
Boris Johnson has said there is nothing to “worry about”, after a formal investigation was launched into how the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat was paid for.Speaking to broadcasters on Thursday morning, the prime minister said he would “comply” with the Electoral Commission inquiry.“I don’t think there is anything to see here, or worry about,” he said.The probe by the elections wathdog will seek to establish who initially paid for the work and whether any donation was properly declared.Johnson has said he has now personally “covered” the cost of the work. But he has repteadly avoided clarifying who initially paid for it.Downing Street has refused to say whether Johnson first received an loan from the Conservative Party.The row was triggered after Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former top adviser, accused the PM of wanting donors to “secretly pay” in a “possibly illegal” move.Johnson also said on Thursday that newly-appointed ministerial standards adviser, Lord Geidt, will do an “outstanding job” in his own review into whether any donations were properly declared.But Labour has criticised the arrangement because Johnson remains the “ultimate arbiter” of the code.The Opposition said it meant the prime minister “effectively marks his own homework”.Keir Starmer said the situation was getting “a bit farcical”.He demanded Johnson “answer a very simple question” on who initially paid for the refurbishments. “What is he hiding?,” the Labour leader added.Johnson argued, in a letter to chairman of the committee on standards in public Life Lord Evans, that he “cannot and would not wish” to give up the power over the code.“That vital responsibility is quite properly mine alone and, as an elected politician, one for which I am ultimately accountable to the electorate,” he said.Lord Geidt was appointed to the position on Wednesday, five months after the resignation of his predecessor Alex Allan.Allan quit in response to Johnson standing by Priti Patel despite an investigation finding the home secretary’s conduct “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying”.Related...Boris Johnson Tries To 'Dodge' Covid Bereaved In Late Night Dash To Memorial WallBoris Johnson Shows Why You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Angry
The Conservatives have been urged to expel a local election candidate who “endorsed” far-right leader Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, on social media.The Tories were also asked to explain whether it was “incompetence or malice” that led to the candidate being readmitted to the party after reportedly resigning in 2018 when the post was first flagged with the party’s central office.In the Facebook post first reported by the Lancashire Telegraph, Andrew Walker, a Tory candidate for Blackburn with Darwen Council, appeared to share a “meme” featuring a photo of Robinson which was headlined: “Tommy Robinson has done nothing but expose the truth behind radical Islam.”Above the post, Walker wrote: “Cant be easy preaching what we all think !!!” [sic] It’s utterly unacceptable for any member of a political party – yet alone the party of government – to be enthusiastically endorsing [Yaxley-Lennon's] extremism The Lancashire Telegraph also published screenshots showing Walker had once said on Facebook that “stabbing [Jeremy] Corbyn would get you knighted in my book”.Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner urged the Conservatives to “reassure the public” that far-right supporters are not standing for the party in local elections.“The Conservatives must explain whether it was incompetence or malice that led them to not only readmit this person into the party but then to select him as a candidate,” she told HuffPost UK.“They must also set out what steps they are taking to reassure the public that no other far right [...] supporters are standing for them in the local elections.”Rayner said the Tories were facing “serious questions” over a “failure to tackle racism in their party”, pointing out that its inquiry into Islamophobia has still not published a report and in any case was “watered down before it even began”. Anti-racism campaigners Hope Not Hate also raised concerns over the Islamophobia report and said there was no doubt that “endorsing” a convicted criminal like Yaxley-Lennon was “utterly unacceptable”.The English Defence League (EDL) founder is currently being sued for libel by a Syrian teenager Jamal Hijazi, 17, over comments he made when the boy was attacked at his Huddersfield school in October 2018.In 2019, Robinson was jailed for contempt of court after live-streaming on Facebook a video that featured defendants in a sexual exploitation trial and put the case at risk of collapse.In the past, he has been convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, mortgage fraud and travelling on another man’s passport to the United States, among other offences.A Hope Not Hate spokesperson said: “During the Conservative Party leadership contest, Boris Johnson and all other candidates committed to holding a specific inquiry into Islamophobia affecting the party. Many months later and that commitment has been watered down, we’re still waiting for the results of the resulting Singh inquiry, and we still have Conservative Party candidates sharing far-right memes and hatred against Muslims.“In this day and age, no one can be in any doubt about the far-right rabble rouser ‘Tommy Robinson’, a multiply convicted violent criminal and fraudster, and it’s utterly unacceptable for any member of a political party – yet alone the party of government – to be enthusiastically endorsing his extremism.“The Conservative Party must remove this candidate immediately, and expedite publishing the results of the inquiry into prejudice in the party.”Walker’s election agent for the Darwen South seat said they could not comment as the matter is under investigation by Tory central office.HuffPost UK has contacted Tory central office for comment.The local elections take place on May 6.Related...Matt Hancock Totally Refuses To Answer Questions On Boris Johnson’s FlatElection Watchdog To Investigate Boris Johnson's Downing Street Flat RefurbNew Adviser On Standards Cannot Launch Investigations Into Boris Johnson Or His Top Team
Matt Hancock has refused to answer questions about Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment, which is subject to an investigation by the election watchdog.The health secretary twice totally refused to engage with questions on the issue before being challenged on his responses by Mirror deputy political editor Ben Glaze.In response, Hancock suggested the media should only ask questions that the government decides “really matter”, while insisting the Downing Street press conference he was hosting was only about coronavirus.At previous press conferences, ministers have been happy to answer questions on wider issues affecting the government.It came after the Electoral Commission said “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred” as it launched a probe into the refurbishment of the prime minister’s flat.No.10 has refused to say whether Johnson sought an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover a reported £58,000-worth of renovations to his residence in No. 11, which he shares with partner Carrie Symonds and their baby son Wilfred.Political donations have to be declared to ensure there are no questions or concerns over politicians or parties being unduly influenced by those giving them money.Matt Hancock is challenged over not answering difficult questions from journalists The health secretary says "the point of the press conference is the incredibly important progress we're making [on] coronavirus"https://t.co/vQhtrfB0KZpic.twitter.com/S246OSi57l— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) April 28, 2021At a Downing Street press briefing, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg asked Hancock whether a serving government minister who is found to have broken party funding rules should resign.But the health secretary replied: “I know that the prime minister answered lots of questions about this in the House of Commons earlier and given that this is a coronavirus press conference you won’t be surprised I’m not going to add to the answers the prime minister has already given to very extensive questioning, thanks.”Times Whitehall editor Chris Smyth then asked two questions on Covid before enquiring whether the government was still threatening to abolish the Electoral Commission.Hancock replied: “I think we’ll give the third one [question] a miss.”The health secretary was then challenged over his approach by Glaze.The Mirror journalist said: “As culture secretary, you championed the right of the free press and fourth estate to ask difficult questions.“Yet this evening you haven’t engaged with those questions from Chris or from Laura around Tory sleaze.“Now what’s the point in us being able to ask difficult questions if you’re not going to engage with them?”Hancock replied: “The point of the press conference is the incredibly important progress that we’re making about coronavirus, which is without doubt the most important thing facing the country.“And if you’ve listened to the answers, I’m sure you have... you will have one of the most illuminating descriptions of where we are up to scientifically, and operationally and clinically that is available, and I’m very, very grateful to the incredible capability of people who support me as a minister.“It is important there are questions and there were endless questions in the House of Commons earlier on some of the issues that you’ve raised, and you will have seen the appointment of [new independent adviser on ministerial interests] Lord Geidt earlier.“But you’ve also got to concentrate on the big things that really matter.”Earlier this month, Boris Johnson was accused of breaking ministerial rules when he used a televised briefing on the Covid pandemic to launch an “unprompted political attack” on London mayor Sadiq Khan about the Transport for London budget. Related...Election Watchdog To Investigate Boris Johnson's Downing Street Flat RefurbBoris Johnson Can't Be Expected To 'Live In A Skip', Says Sarah VineBoris Johnson Dodges Questions About Who Initially Paid To Refurbish His Flat
Boris Johnson is facing new rules to force him correct misleading statements to parliament after the Commons Speaker backed demands for tougher action to promote honesty in politics.Amid a fresh row over the prime minister’s “lies” to MPs, Lindsay Hoyle supported a proposal for the cross-party Commons Procedure Committee to look into “how perceived inaccuracies could be corrected” as quickly as possible.Johnson faced new charges of misleading parliament on Wednesday as he wrongly claimed Keir Starmer had opposed the Brexit trade deal.The Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford also used prime minister’s questions to challenge Johnson’s denial that he had said he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a new lockdown. “Are you a liar, prime minister?’ Blackford asked.Hoyle, who said Blackford’s question was “unsavoury” but in order, has thrown his weight behind fresh moves to correct the record after a meeting with six opposition party leaders on Tuesday.The party leaders had written to the Speaker about multiple occasions where Johnson had made inaccurate statements in the Commons, including on carbon emissions, economic growth, nurses’ bursaries, hospital car parking, NHS spending, the Covid-19 track and trace app, and poverty in the UK.A viral video by filmmaker Peter Stefanovic, highlighting and correcting some of the statements, has been seen more than 13 million times.Under usual parliamentary convention, ministers are required to correct the record at the despatch box as soon as possible if they have been found to have made misleading statements to the Commons.But Johnson has failed to do so on a range of issues, including a false claim that Labour had voted against a 2.1% pay rise for nurses.The PM’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton refused 20 times to correct the record or apologise at the time, relying on the Speaker allowing a clarification by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s Office said: “Mr Speaker welcomed the meeting and the proposal to ask the Procedure Committee to look into how perceived inaccuracies could be corrected.“He hoped such a measure would improve transparency in House of Commons proceedings.”The Procedure Committee said: “The committee will consider any request it receives to look at the matter of ministerial corrections in the new session of parliament.”The Greens’ Carolline Lucas, who joined Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey and Blackford for the meeting, said rules for honesty at the despatch box are designed for a less “Trumpian” era.“He is a serial liar. This is a man who isn’t just lying occasionally, he is routinely lying at the despatch box and that makes it impossible for MPs to hold him to account,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.Johnson sparked anger among Labour MPs when he said of Starmer in PMQs: “Last night our friends in the European Union voted to approve our Brexit deal – which he opposed.”The Prime Minister lied. Labour did not oppose the deal with the EU as Johnson claimed in PMQs. We voted for the Trade and Co-operation Agreement to prevent no deal, and we will build on it in the future.#PMQs— Rachel Reeves (@RachelReevesMP) April 28, 2021Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said Johnson had “lied” because her party did not vote against the Brexit trade deal bill late last year – and in fact voted for it.A spokesperson for Starmer told HuffPost UK: “This is yet another example of Boris Johnson misleading parliament. Labour voted for the government’s Brexit deal and the Prime Minister should come back to Parliament to correct the record.”A No.10 spokesperson said: “It’s a matter of public record that they did vote in favour of that, but the broader point is Keir Starmer has consistently backed a second referendum and said he would vote to remain.”She denied that the PM had been “sloppy” with his language, adding “I think he was very clear in the comments.”Related...New Adviser On Standards Cannot Launch Investigations Into Boris Johnson Or His Top TeamElection Watchdog To Investigate Boris Johnson's Downing Street Flat RefurbWhy Boris Johnson’s Sleazy-Does-It Water Torture Shows No Sign Of Ending Soon
Boris Johnson will be the final judge of any investigation into whether he has breached the ministerial code, Downing Street has confirmed. The prime minister faces claims he broke official rules over the funding of his Downing Street flat refurbishment.The elections watchdog launched its own probe on Wednesday after No.10 refused to say whether Johnson sought an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover renovations to his residence in No. 11, which he shares with partner Carrie Symonds and their baby son Wilfred. Amid mounting allegations of “Tory sleaze”, including texts Johnson exchanged with billionaire businessman James Dyson about tax policy, the PM this week appointed Lord Geidt as the government’s new independent adviser on ministerial interests.The post had been vacant since Alex Allan resigned after Johnson chose not to sack home secretary Priti Patel after a civil service probe found her guilty of bullying. But Geidt will have no power to launch investigations into Johnson’s top team and the PM will remain as the “ultimate arbiter” of whether he or any other minister has breached the ministerial code. The code governs ministers’ conduct and Geidt is expected to produce an annual report on their personal and financial interests, to ensure proper standards are upheld.  The prime minister’s official spokesman said Johnson is retaining control of the process as he has concerns an independent adviser with powers to launch probes could be drawn into an investigation with “trivial or vexatious complaints”.“So he will remain the ultimate arbiter of this,” he said.Asked if that means the prime minister could reject any findings on himself, the spokesman said: “The prime minister will remain the ultimate arbiter of this, yep.”Pressed further on whether Johnson could overrule Geidt on any sanctions he recommended for ministers if they fell foul of the code, the spokesman said: “The prime minister, as has always been the case, remains the ultimate arbiter of the code and draws conclusions from it. That rightly remains with the prime minister.” It comes as the Electoral Commission launched an investigation into the £200,000 flat makeover on Wednesday, saying in a statement it was satisfied that “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.Prime ministers get a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their residency at Downing Street, but reports have suggested Johnson has spent up to £200,000.Former aide Dominic Cummings accused him of wanting Tory donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations in a “possibly illegal” move.A No.10 spokesperson has said that the costs “have been met by the prime minister personally” and that party funds “are not being used for this”.Downing Street has said Johnson will be “happy to assist” if the Electoral Commission asks for any information from him during its investigation.Asked if Johnson is willing to be questioned in person, the PM’s spokesperson: “This is a matter for the Conservative Party as a political party and CCHQ have said they will continue to work constructively with the Electoral Commission on this matter.“They will provide all necessary information to assist the commission.“The prime minister hasn’t been asked for any information but he and the government will of course be happy to assist if asked.”Labour leader Keir Starmer pressed Johnson over the flat claims in the Commons on Wednesday. Johnson has continued to insist he has paid for it personally, but refused to make clear whether he had been offered a loan from a donor. Starmer said: “Who initially – and prime minister, initially is the key word here – who initially paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?”Johnson replied: “As for the latest stuff that he is bringing up, he should know that I have paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally.“And I contrast it … any further declaration that I have to make, if any, I will be advised upon by (the independent adviser on ministers’ interests) Lord Geidt.” Related...Boris Johnson Can't Be Expected To 'Live In A Skip', Says Sarah VineElection Watchdog To Investigate Boris Johnson's Downing Street Flat Refurb
Boris Johnson has repeatedly dodged questions about who initially paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.Speaking during PMQs on Wednesday, Labour leader Keir Starmer asked “who paid the initial invoice” for the renovations, which reportedly cost £200,000.But the prime minister would only say he had “covered the cost”, with no reference to who paid the bills up front.The Electoral Commission has launched a “formal investigation” to see if any rules have been broken.Downing Street has refused to say whether Johnson received an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover the renovations to the flat.Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former top adviser, has accused the PM of wanting donors to “secretly pay” in a “possibly illegal” move.Starmer asked Johnson in the Commons: “Who initially – and, prime minister, ‘initially’ is the key word here – who initially paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?“Either the taxpayer paid the initial invoice, or it was the Conservative Party, or it was a private donor, or it was the prime minister.”Johnson said he had “paid for the Downing Street refurbishment personally”.“I think I have answered this question several times now and the answer is that I have covered the cost,” he added.Starmer, in reply, listed the seven “Nolan principles” that are supposed to govern politicians holding government office: “Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.”“Instead, what do we get from this prime minister and Conservative government?” he asked.“Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access – and who is at the heart of it? The prime minister – major sleaze sitting there.”Johnson angrily accused Labour of “playing political games” and said he had “met the requirements that I have been obliged to meet in full”.Labour MP Lilian Greenwood said Johnson was “ranting and raving like a toddler who isn’t getting their own way”.Prime ministers are allocated a taxpayer-funded budget of up to £30,000 a year to renovate the home – which is more than the median UK household income after tax. Any extra expense has to be paid for with non-taxpayer money.The Electoral Commission can issue fines of up to £20,000, and if it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has occurred will in most cases draw the line at imposing its own sanction.But it can also refer investigations to police or prosecutors under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.Related...Election Watchdog To Investigate Boris Johnson's Downing Street Flat Refurb
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson allegedly hid the fact that Conservative donors had paid for the revamp of his Downing Street flat.
A cabinet minister has said she has no idea when the latest register of ministers’ interests will be published, amid a row over how Boris Johnson paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, international trade secretary Liz Truss said the prime minister had paid for the refit himself. But she was unable to say where he got the money.Labour has demanded the government publish the register before the local elections on May 6.The register, which sets out the financial interests of ministers, was last published in July 2020 despite the ministerial code requiring it to be released “twice yearly”.Asked when the latest version would be released, Truss said: “I’m sure it will be published.”Marr asked Truss: “You could go back after this programme, literally press the send button and publish it. Why not?”She said: “I’m sure it will be published in line with the rules.”Pressed on if she had “any idea why it’s not been published”, Truss said: “No, I haven’t.”Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said there was a “real stench” around the government and called on Johnson to go to parliament on Monday to explain what happened.Rayner said the commission should now launch a full inquiry and she called on the prime minister to publish the latest register of ministers’ interests which was now eight months overdue.“These are serious allegations,” she told Marr.  “Why are they hiding the fact that ministers have to declare these donations and they’ve not done that? That’s serious. This is a real stench around what (the) government is about.”The Electoral Commission – which first raised the issue with the Conservative Party more than a month ago – has said it is still looking into whether any of the sums relating to the work on the flat should have been declared under the rules on political donations. Related...Does Rishi Sunak Want To Save The Planet?David Cameron's Repeated Lobbying Of Treasury And Bank Of England Revealed
Dominic Cummings" src="https://img.huffingtonpost.com/asset/6082fa5b1e00008e3f1000b1.jpeg?cache=pA9gjjWGDl&ops=scalefit_630_noupscale" />Dominic Cummings has questioned Boris Johnson’s “competence and integrity” as he accused the prime minister of being responsible for a series of false allegations about him in the media.In an explosive blog posting, Johnson’s former top adviser denied he was responsible for the leak of private texts in which he promised to “fix” a tax issue for the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson.He also claimed the PM had tried to stop an inquiry into the leak last year of plans for a second lockdown because it implicated a friend of his fiancee, Carrie Symonds.He said that he had also warned Johnson against plans to have donors secretly pay for refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, saying they were “unethical, foolish (and) possibly illegal”.“It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves,” he said.His attack follows briefings to a number of newspapers, which said Johnson believed Cummings was the source of the leaks about the lockdown and his texts to Sir James as well as stories about the flat refurbishment.It follows his dramatic departure from No 10 last year amid the fallout from a bitter power struggle with Symonds.Denying the being the source of the BBC story on Johnson’s text communications with the businessman, Cummings said: “I do have some WhatsApp messages between the PM/Dyson forwarded to me by the PM. I have not found the ones that were leaked to Laura Kuenssberg on my phone nor am I aware of being sent them last year. I was not directly or indirectly a/the source for the BBC/Kuenssberg story on the PM/Dyson texts.”He said he is “happy to meet with the Cabinet secretary” and to have his phone searched.He added: “If the PM did send them to me, as he is claiming, then he will be able to show the Cabinet secretary on his own phone when they were sent to me.“It will therefore be easy to establish at least if I was ever sent these messages. I am also happy to publish or give to the Cabinet Secretary the PM/Dyson messages that I do have, which concerned ventilators, bureaucracy and covid policy — not tax issues.”Referring to the leak of a decision on having another lockdown last autumn, Cummings said: “Last year there was a meeting between the PM, Cabinet Secretary, the director of communications and me regarding the leak of the decision for a further lockdown on the Friday evening immediately after the meeting in the Cabinet Room that made the decision (known in the media as ‘the chatty rat story’).”He said Johnson “knows that I was not the source of the leak and that the Cabinet secretary authorised the prime Minister’s official spokesman to tell the media this, yet he has now authorised his DOC (director of communications) to make this accusation”.He said events around that situation had “contributed to my decision to stick to my plan to leave No10 by 18 December, which I had communicated to the PM in July the day before my long-delayed operation”.Cummings said Johnson had “stopped speaking” to him about renovations to the Downing Street flat last year “as I told him I thought his 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 if conducted in the way he intended”.He added: “I refused to help him organise these payments. My knowledge about them is therefore limited.“I would be happy to tell the Cabinet secretary or Electoral Commission what I know concerning this matter.”Cummings said he has “made the offer to hand over some private text messages, even though I am under no legal obligation to do so, because of the seriousness of the claims being made officially by No10 today, particularly the covid leak that caused serious harm to millions”.However, he added that this “does not mean that I will answer every allegation made by No10”.He said the “proper way for such issues to be handled” would be through a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s conduct over the Covid crisis.He said this “ought to take evidence from all key players under oath and have access to documents”.He added: “Issues concerning covid and/or the PM’s conduct should not be handled as No10 has handled them over the past 24 hours.“I will cooperate fully with any such inquiry and am happy to give evidence under oath.“I am happy for No10 to publish every email I received and sent July 2019-November 2020 (with no exceptions other than, obviously, some national security / intelligence issues).”The ex-aide confirmed he will appear before MPs next month.He wrote: “I will not engage in media briefing regarding these issues but will answer questions about any of these issues to parliament on 26 May for as long as the MPs want.”Johnson declined to say why No 10 insiders suspected Cummings is behind leaks of his correspondence.During a campaign visit to Hartlepool, Johnson told broadcasters: “I think people aren’t so much interested in who is leaking what to whom as the substance of the issue at hand. The issue is really the question of the ventilators as you will remember James Dyson was offering to make.“Let’s be absolutely clear I think it was right to talk to him.”He said he is “mystified” as to why some people have “chosen to attack” his communications.Asked if he will take legal action against Cummings, the prime minister said: “I think there’s much more public interest in what we’re doing not just to procure ventilators…“And we’re now in a position where we do have 30,000 ventilators, we’re able for instance to think about what we can do to help the people of India who are suffering so terribly at the moment.”Related...Can Labour Capitalise On ‘Tory Sleaze’ In Time For The May 6 Elections?Dominic Cummings Says PPE 'Disaster' Left Health Department A 'Smoking Ruin'Cummings Defends 40% Pay Rise By Claiming He Took Salary Cut When He Joined No.10
Conservative Party funds have not been used for the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat, but any “gifts or benefits” will be declared in the future, his press secretary has said.Allegra Stratton denied reports in the Daily Mail that suggested party funds had met a £200,000 bill to refurbish the flat above No.11 where the prime minister lives with his fiancee Carrie Symonds.But she did not deny suggestions that wealthy donors may have contributed to the cost of the refit, saying “all of those donations” would be declared.“All of those donations are declared to and published by the Electoral Commission, or in the House of Commons register, absolutely in line with our requirements by electoral law,” Stratton told reporters.“And gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity – this would be for the prime minister. They will always be declared in his transparency returns.”There will also be “chapter and verse” on the details of the Downing Street works in the Cabinet Office annual report, due for publication around summer, she added.But Stratton could not say whether the report would include a list of donations.“It will have the relevant level of information to make it clear what refurbishment and what renovations took place in the last year on Downing Street.”Following nearly 30 minutes of sustained questioning over the issue, Stratton was asked why why the PM cannot pay for his own furniture and wallpaper.She replied: “You’re going to get all of the details concerning the prime minister’s residence above No.11 in the annual report in due course, as would happen every year.”It came after No.10 sources confirmed to PA Media that the government is spending £9m on a White House-style situation room in the bowels of the Cabinet Office, to act as the PM’s control hub during emergencies.Downing Street has also spent more than £2.6m recently on refurbishments to hold televised, American-style media briefings.Responding to the media room refit in No.9, Labour questioned why the PM was spending millions on “vanity projects” while “picking the pockets” of NHS workers, amid growing anger at the government proposing a pay rise for health staff of just 1%.Related...Boris Johnson 'Too Busy' To Take Parental Leave But Top Aide Insists PM Is A 'Feminist'No.10 Clears Up Confusion On School Covid Tests After Minister's MistakeBoris Johnson Defends 1% NHS Pay Rise By Saying Times 'Tough'
Rishi Sunak has been accused of “divide and rule” tactics after his own constituency was made a priority for the government’s levelling up fund.The district of Richmondshire is listed as a category one area which will be given preference by the government when it is deciding which areas to give cash from the £4.8bn fund. The district falls entirely within chancellor’s Richmond parliamentary seat.In a prospectus published alongside his Budget, Sunak said the fund was intended to support investment in places “where it can make the biggest difference to everyday life, including ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities”.But Richmondshire, a mainly agricultural area which also attracts tourism as it covers a large part of the Yorkshire Dales, is one of the least deprived areas in England, ranking at 251 out of 317 on the government’s own index of deprivation.Treasury sources said Sunak had no sight of the specific areas that would be deemed high priority for the levelling up fund, although ministers were able to see a provisional map showing how the cash would be spread under the categories.Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis questioned why Richmondshire was prioritised over the city (93nd on the deprivation index) and nearby Barnsley (38th), which are both in category two.He accused the government of pursuing a “divide and rule” approach, highlighting that Sunak also used the budget to announce a new Treasury campus in Darlington, which neighbours his Richmond seat.Jarvis said: “A cursory glance at the government’s criteria for the levelling up fund is symbolic of their divide and rule approach. “The chancellor has identified his own Richmond seat as ‘category one’ and relocated his Treasury office to a neighbouring constituency, but has labelled places like Barnsley and Sheffield as ‘category two’ – pushing them to the back of the queue for economic support.“Ministers must change their approach, or they will put the country on course for a deeply divided recovery.”The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) placed areas into three categories according to their need for economic recovery and growth, for improved transport connectivity, and for regeneration.The controversy comes following concerns that the towns fund, also run by MHCLG, was targeted at key marginal seats the Tories wanted to win in the 2019 general election.Asked at a Downing Street press conference if he was using the levelling up fund for “naked pork barrel politics”, Sunak said: “The formula for the grant payments for the new fund to give them some capacity funding to bid for projects is based on an index of economic need, which is transparently published actually I think by MHCLG based on a bunch of objective measures.”He went on: “And remember, that’s only areas that have received some capacity funding to bid – no area is excluded for bidding it’s just that those areas on the basis of this formula might need a bit of extra help, so we’re giving those local areas some money to put their bid together to help them.”Labour’s shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said: “Just months after the government was criticised for diverting funding away from towns that desperately needed it, we discover that cabinet ministers own constituencies now stand to benefit ahead of more deprived areas. “This government should be investing to rebuild the foundations of our economy, but they’re pulling the country further apart by pitting regions and nations against each other for crucial funding then diverting the money to serve their own party’s needs.”Related...Universal Credit £20 A Week Increase Extended For Six MonthsBudget 2021: Boris Johnson’s Brexit Deal Will Shrink UK Economy By 4%, Watchdog SaysRishi Sunak's Budget Explained In Two Minutes
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