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.