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Investigations into the Downing Street flat refurbishment

A number of investigations have been launched into how the refurbishment of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street was paid for.

Since questions were first raised about the refurbishment of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street, the home of the prime minister and his partner Carrie Symonds, a number of investigations have been launched into how the work was paid for and whether these payments complied with the relevant rules.

The prime minister has said that he “covered the costs"[1], but there were initially unanswered questions as to how the refurbishment was initially paid for.

What are the concerns about how the work was funded?

The episode has highlighted concerns both about the way the money was managed, and about the failure of the prime minister, and the Conservative Party, to make full declarations and answer questions. 

While the prime minister is awarded an annual allowance of £30,000 from public funds to pay for renovations to the Downing Street residence, the costs of the work that Johnson and his fiancée undertook reportedly exceeded that figure.

Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, told a parliamentary committee that the prime minister had asked officials to looked into different ways of funding the upkeep of Downing Street, including establishing a charitable trust.[2] Howeber, it transpired that any trust would not be able to fund the refurbishment of the private areas in Downing Street. Given no trust was established, questions still remained about how the work was initially paid for, including allegations that a Conservative Party donor loaned money for it.[3]

What investigations have been launched?

The Electoral Commission announced on 28 April that there were "reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred" and that it was launching a formal investigation into how the work was paid for.[4]

Later that day the prime minister announced the appointment of Lord Geidt as his new independent adviser on ministerial interests, filling a vacancy that had been open for over five months. Lord Geidt investigated whether the prime minister should have made any disclosures required by the ministerial code. He will build on the initial work done by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary.[5]

The parliamentary commissioner for standards has also been asked to investigate whether the prime minister should have declared any aspect of the funding of the work in the House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests.[6]

What did the Electoral Commission investigate?

The Electoral Commission oversees the funding of political parties, as well as how elections and referendums are conducted. It investigated whether the Conservative Party played any role in the initial funding of the refurbishment, and whether any donations to the party to help it do so were properly managed and declared. The commission has the power to interview people, and to require them to provide documents.

On 9 December, the commission found that the Conservative Party had failed to accurately report a donation of £52,801.72 from Huntswood Associates Limited, of which Lord Brownlow is a director. The donation which was used to pay for some of the refurbishment of the flat. The commission fined the party £17,800 for its failure to declare the donation properly.[7]

What did the independent adviser on ministerial interests investigate?

Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, investigated “the facts surrounding the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat”. He found that the prime minister had not broken any of the rules in the ministerial code but that he had acted “unwisely” by not being more “rigorous” in looking into the refurbishment.[8] The publication of the Electoral Commission’s investigation calls into question some of Lord Geidt’s conclusions, as it found that the prime minister had discussed the refurbishment with Lord Brownlow earlier than Lord Geidt had indicated. Lord Geidt is believed to be looking again at the refurbishment.

The adviser can only investigate an issue if the prime minister asks him to, which he did in this case.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that the remit of the ministerial adviser be changed to enable him to initiate investigations and publish his findings, but the government has chosen not to act on those recommendations. The Institute has also argued that the adviser should have this power.

What did the parliamentary commissioner for standards investigate?

The parliamentary commissioner for standards,[9] Kathryn Stone MBE, investigates whether MPs have broken any of the rules in their code of conduct, including whether they have declared all their financial interests in an appropriate and timely way (within 28 days). Depending on how the refurbishment of the No11 flat was financed, it may fall into a category of financial benefit that the prime minister should have declared.

On the Downing Street flat, the commissioner has reportedly been waiting for the Electoral Commission’s report before deciding whether or not to investigate. According to news reports, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has now written to the commissioner asking her to investigate the flat refurbishment.[10]

If the commissioner finds that an MP has breached the code of conduct, she has two options.[11] If the breach is minor, she can require the MP to acknowledge and apologise for the breach. If it is more serious, the commissioner must refer her conclusions to the Committee on Standards. This committee is made up of seven MPs and seven lay members (although there is currently one lay vacancy). The committee will then consider the issue, decide whether it agrees a breach has occurred and, if so, recommend a sanction to be imposed on the MP. These can range from apologising to the House of Commons to a temporary suspension.

If an MP is suspended for 10 sitting days or more, a recall petition is triggered in their constituency. The actual decision to impose a serious sanction such as suspension must be endorsed by a vote of the whole House of Commons.

What other investigations has the prime minister faced in the past?

Boris Johnson has faced parliamentary investigations in the past. He was the subject of an investigation between October and December 2018 by the parliamentary commissioner for failure to register financial interests on time. Between 2017 and 2018, Johnson failed to register renumerations on time on nine occasions. The total value of this renumeration was £52,722.80, or almost 70% of an MP’s annual salary. The delays varied from one to 11 weeks. The report concluded that the issue arose from “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the House”; the final recommendation was that Johnson apologise to parliament.[12]

Just a few months later he was under investigation again by the same body for the same issue. He had failed to register an interest in a 20% share in a property in Somerset on time. Johnson claimed that the rules were not adequately clear. The Committee for Standards concluded that the same lack of adequate regard for the rules was in place. It noted that given he had breached the rules twice in such a short amount of time, any further breach “may call for more serious sanction.”[13]

The parliamentary standards commissioner also investigated the prime minister’s new year 2020 holiday to the island of Mustique in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She found that he had breached the MPs’ code of conduct, but the House of Commons Standards Committee disagreed with this conclusion after more inquiries. The committee found that the PM had not breached the code but that it was “unsatisfactory” that he had not been able initially to explain how the holiday was funded.[14]  

What investigations have previous prime ministers faced in the past?

Tony Blair faced parliamentary investigation between 2006 and 2007 over alleged links between political donations and the granting of life peerages. Four nominations to the House of Lords were blocked, and it was later made public that all four had made undisclosed donations to the Labour Party. An inquiry was launched by the select committee on public administration but was subsequently paused due to a metropolitan police investigation. While arrests were made, crown prosecution services announced in July 2007 that they would not take any criminal proceedings forward.[15]

The select committee reopened its inquiry following the termination of the police investigation. The final report concluded that rules over appointments to the House of Lords should be strengthened, and that rules over the disclosure of political loans should be amended to remove loopholes.[16] This had already been done through the Electoral Administration Act 2006.


  1. Engagements, Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 28 April 2021
  2. Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Oral evidence: The work of the Cabinet Office, HC 118, 26 April 2021,
  3. Neate R, Who is Lord Brownlow, the man who helped pay for Downing Street refurb?, The Guardian, 27 April 2021,
  4. BBC News, Electoral Commission to investigate Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat renovations, 28 April 2021,
  5. Cabinet Office and The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, 'The Rt Hon Lord Geidt appointed as Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests', press release, 28 April 2021,
  6. Jessica Elgot, Twitter,
  7. Electoral Commission, Conservative Party fined for inaccurate donation report, 9 December 2021,
  8. BBC News, Downing Street flat: PM cleared of misconduct but acted unwisely, says watchdog, 28 May 2021,
  9. Michael Savage, Twitter, 29 April 2021,
  10. Harry Yorke, Twitter, 9 December 2021,
  11. UK Parliament, The Commissioner's remit and contact details, Frequently asked questions,
  14. Committee on Standards, Report on the conduct of Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP published, 8 July 2021,
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