An Electoral Commission probe has found that the Conservative Party failed to “fully report a donation of £67,801.72 from Huntswood Associates Limited in October 2020” that was used to fund the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street Flat.
The Electoral Commission found that £52,801.72 of a £67,801.72 donation to the Conservative Party were used to fund a refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s flat above No. 11 Downing Street, where Johnson lives. The Prime Minister is “afforded an annual allowance of up to £30,000 a year from the public purse to contribute towards the costs associated with maintaining and furnishing of the residency within the Downing Street estate.”
Earlier in the year, the Prime Minister told Lord Geidt, independent advisor on minister’s interest, that he “knew nothing about such payments until immediately prior to media reports in February 2021.”
The commission uncovered WhatsApp messages, directly from Boris Johnson to Lord Brownlow, on November 29th, 2020, for more money to complete the renovations. Lord Brownlow is a Conservative Party donor who was made a peer by Theresa May on the 15th of October 2019. He has donated almost £3 million to the Conservative Party over the past 6 years.
The donation was recorded as a “Blind Trust Loan”, but the Commission found this to be false. During the probe, the Conservative Party insisted the money was not a donation from Lord Brownlow, but was rather “a donation to the prime minister via the party”, a “ministerial matter”, a loan repayment, and even a “gift to the nation”.
Louise Edwards, Director of Regulation at the Commission, said:
“Reporting requirements are in place so that the public can see where money is coming from, inaccurate reporting risks undermining trust in the system.”
“The party’s decisions and actions reflected serious failings in its compliance systems.”
“As a large and well-resourced political party that employs compliance and finance experts, and that has substantial sums of money going through its accounts, the Conservative Party should have sufficiently robust systems in place to meet its legal reporting requirements.”
Kathyn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, is expected to announce a follow-up investigation early next week.
The maximum fine for failing to accurately report funds is £20,000, with some criticising the government for failing to act on recommendations to increase the maximum to £500,000.
The Conservative Party have said they are considering appealing the decision and will announce their decision within the next 28 working days.