Boris Johnson has been 'set up' by Keir Starmer says Archer

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In a heated Commons clash with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the Prime Minister insisted repeatedly that he personally paid the excess for the £58,000 redecoration. The bill was way above a £30,000 taxpayer-funded annual maintenance allowance for the premier’s official residence. But Mr Johnson told MPs: “I have covered the costs.” He maintained his cash arrangements did not break ministerial conduct rules or the law.

The Prime Minister spoke out after the Electoral Commission launched an inquiry into reports Conservative Party chiefs arranged a loan from donors to initially foot the bill.

However, Mr Johnson was said to be furious the probe was announced an hour before an ill-tempered Prime Minister’s Questions clash with Sir Keir.

The Labour leader claimed the Government was “mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal”, prompting Mr Johnson to say around £350,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent redecorating the Downing Street accommodation during Tony Blair’s term in office.

He told Sir Keir: “The answer is that I have covered the costs.

“Of course, the Electoral Commission is investigating this and I can tell him that I have conformed in full with the code of conduct and the ministerial code, and officials have been advising me throughout this whole thing.

“But I think people will find it absolutely bizarre that he is focusing on this issue when what people want to know is what plans a Labour Government might have to improve the lives of people.”

Mr Johnson refused to confirm or deny he received a loan from Tory donors, saying: “I have met the requirements that I have been obliged to meet in full.

“When it comes to the taxpayer and the costs of No 10 Downing Street, it was under the previous Labour Government that I think Tony Blair racked up a bill of £350,000. I think what the people of this country want to see is minimising taxpayer expense.”

Red-faced with anger, Mr Johnson then savaged Labour for slurs against figures involved in the fight against Covid, including inventor James Dyson and vaccine rollout chief Kate Bingham.

He said: “Week after week, the people of this country can see the difference between a Labour Party that twists and turns with the wind and thinks of nothing except playing political games, whereas this party gets on with delivering on the people’s priorities.”

Taunting Mr Johnson with the nickname “Major Sleaze”, Sir Keir said: “This is a Prime Minister who during the pandemic was nipping out of meetings to choose wallpaper at £840 a roll.

“What do we get from this Prime Minister and this Conservative Government? 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.

“Do not the British people deserve a Prime Minister they can trust, not a Government who are mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal?”

The Electoral Commission said yesterday: “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 watchdog can issue fines of up to £20,000 and can refer investigations to police or prosecutors. A Tory spokesman said: “We believe all reportable donations have been transparently and correctly declared and published by the Electoral Commission.

“We will continue to work constructively with the Electoral Commission on this matter.”

Asked if Mr Johnson would be willing to be questioned in person, his press secretary said: “He and the Government will of course be happy to assist if asked.”

Downing Street announced a separate inquiry into the refurbishment payment yesterday, headed by crossbench peer and former private secretary to the Queen Christopher Geidt.

Lord Geidt, Mr Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, replaces Sir Alex Allan, who quit in November after the Prime Minister backed Home Secretary Priti Patel despite Sir Alex’s inquiry accusing her of “behaviour that can be described as bullying”.

The redecoration row erupted last week when Mr Johnson’s estranged former chief adviser Dominic Cummings claimed any attempt to get donors to “secretly pay” for the work by designer Lulu Lytle would be “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”.

Meanwhile Chancellor Rishi Sunak paid “upfront and entirely at his own expense” to redecorate his Downing Street flat last year, Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch said.

Replying to a question from shadow Treasury minister Bridget Phillipson, she said: “No request was made to HM Treasury.”

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