Boris Johnson has said he will have the final say on any investigation into ministerial misconduct after appointing an independent adviser to look at how his Downing Street flat refurbishment was paid for.
On Thursday, the prime minister also said he would comply with another investigation, by the Electoral Commission, into whether any transactions related to the works were properly reported.
“We will comply with whatever they want. I don’t think there’s anything to see here, or to worry about, but what we are doing is focusing on the stuff that really matters,” he said.
Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s former private secretary, was appointed on Wednesday and launched a separate investigation straight away, but questions have been asked about what powers he will actually have.
In a letter to Lord Evans, the head of the committee on standards in public life, Mr Johnson confirmed that he would remain the ultimate arbitrator of whether a matter should be investigated – not the independent adviser.
Mr Johnson wrote: “The constitutional position of the prime minister, as having sole responsibility for the overall organisation of the executive and recommending the appointment of ministers, means that I cannot and would not wish to abrogate the ultimate responsibility for deciding on an investigation into allegations concerning ministerial misconduct.
“That vital responsibility is quite properly mine alone and, as an elected politician, one for which I am ultimately accountable to the electorate.”
He added that he believes it is “necessary to avoid creating incentives” for the independent adviser to investigate “trivial or vexatious complaints”.
The Labour Party has called for Lord Geidt to be given powers to trigger investigations into ministers himself, but Mr Johnson’s letter to Lord Evans makes it clear he will not allow that.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he thought the issue of who paid for the refurb “is getting a bit farcical”.
He said: “I think the prime minister could deal with this very quickly – all he’s got to do is answer a simple question, which is: Who paid initially for the redecorating of his flat?”
In Lord Evans’ reply to Mr Johnson, he welcomed the appointment of Lord Geidt but expressed concern that the new adviser is not allowed to investigate with full independence, as was recommended by his committee.
“We note that the adviser will still lack the authority to initiate investigations. We will want to consider how far the new arrangements provide the degree of independence and transparency that the committee believes is necessary,” he wrote.
Mr Johnson has insisted he has not broken any laws or rules over renovations of his Number 11 residence.
The PM and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, are said to have wanted an overhaul of the flat in order to replace what has been termed Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare”.
Mr Johnson told reporters on Thursday there was “absolutely nothing” wrong with John Lewis and the one thing he “objects to in this whole faraga of nonsense is that anything – I love John Lewis”.
The taxpayer funds a £30,000 annual allowance but the revamp of the four-bedroom flat, which reportedly involves the company Soane, co-founded by top interior designer Lulu Lytle – whose fans include Prince Charles and Lord Cholmondeley – has reportedly stretched beyond that.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News the government has reformed Lord Geidt’s role to allow him to be “proactive rather than reactive” and the PM will “absolutely make sure” he delivers everything asked of him.
Labour MP Liz Kendall said Lord Geidt was not a “properly independent adviser with the ability to initiate investigations”.
She told Sky News: “They’re saying he can suggest investigations, that’s not the same as saying ‘you have a right to initiate investigations’.”
Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he paid for the refurbishment but has refused to answer whether he paid for the initial cost or whether a donor or the Conservative Party funded it and he paid them back.
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