A bullish Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail in Hartlepool today amid fears the bitter ‘wallpapergate’ row is starting to hit Tory support.
The PM chatted with voters and posed for selfies with just days left before the ‘Super Thursday’ elections – when the town will elect a new MP.
The Conservatives have been hoping to pull off a massive coup by seizing the constituency from Labour. Victory would underline the destruction of the ‘Red Wall’ that secured Mr Johnson’s huge majority in 2019, although Tory insiders have been desperately playing down their chances.
But there are signs that the party’s huge poll lead is starting to be reeled in after a grim tide of stories about lobbying, cronyism and Mr Johnson’s lavish refurbishment of his grace-and-favour flat.
Polls over the weekend showed a significant narrowing, in a glimmer of light for Keir Starmer, who has been repeatedly attacking ‘Tory sleaze’.
Alongside the Hartlepool seat and 5,000 councillors, key mayoral posts in the West Midlands, Tees Valley, and London are also up for grabs on Thursday.
The contest for Holyrood in Scotland is set to decide whether Nicola Sturgeon mounts a push for a fresh independence referendum.
Boris Johnson chatted with voters and posed for selfies in Hartlepool with just days left before the ‘Super Thursday’ elections – when the town will elect a new MP
The Conservatives have been hoping to pull off a massive coup by seizing the Hartlepool constituency from Labour
A bullish Boris Johnson hit the campaign trail in Hartlepool today amid fears the bitter ‘wallpapergate’ row is starting to hit Tory support
The PM (pictured with Carrie Symonds last year) has been struggling to quell the ‘wallpapergate’ row over his grace-and-favour residence
A senior minister today refused to say that Boris Johnson will quit if he is found to have broken conduct rules over his lavish flat makeover – despite the Scottish Tory leader insisting he would have to go.
James Cleverly dodged questions, suggesting that the ministerial code was merely there for the ‘guidance of the PM’ when he appoints his team.
The comments came despite Douglas Ross, the most senior Tory north of the border, saying bluntly that ‘of course’ Mr Johnson should resign if he did not abide by the standards.
Several probes are under way into the tangled financing of the costly refurbishment – including an investigation by Mr Johnson’s new adviser on ministerial interests, Lord Geidt.
Meanwhile, the PM is also facing allegations that Tory donors were approached to pay for his personal trainer and a nanny for his son Wilf.
However, as head of the Government the premier is still the final arbiter on any breaches of the ministerial code.
In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Mr Cleverly was repeatedly pressed on whether Mr Johnson should resign if he broke the ministerial code.
‘The ministerial code is there for the guidance of the PM in appointing ministers,’ he told Sky News.
‘I don’t know any more detail than the things the PM has already said.’
Pushed on whether a PM who breaks the code should go ‘on principle’, he said: ‘It is pointless speculating about what actions might be taken… it is not as simple as you have set out.’
Speaking to Times Radio Mr Cleverly said: ‘The investigations and reports that will come out into the public domain about this need to come out.
‘I’m not going to speculate about what the content of those reports will be or how the Prime Minister responds to any of those reports.
‘Speculating about the outcome or what comes next is not right.
‘We’ll let the reports do their thing and the Prime Minister will make the decisions based on any recommendations that those reports have in them.’
Mr Ross was asked on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show yesterday if Mr Johnson should quit if found to be in breach of the code.
He replied: ‘Of course, I think people expect the highest standards of those in the highest office of the land, that’s why I think people are looking at the investigations that are currently ongoing and waiting for the answers.’
Mr Ross is the most senior Tory to question the funding arrangements, putting him at odds with No 10.
His comments are likely to infuriate Downing Street, which has sought to play down the row. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday dismissed claims that a Tory donor was asked to pay for a nanny for Mr Johnson’s one-year-old son Wilfred as ‘tittle-tattle’.
James Cleverly (left) dodged questions, suggesting that the ministerial code was merely there for the ‘guidance’ of Boris Johnson (right) when he appoints his team
Douglas Ross, the most senior Tory north of the border, said yesterday that the Prime Minister should ‘of course’ quit if he did not abide by the standards of conduct expected of ministers
The Sunday Times reported that senior Conservatives said donors have been approached about funding other aspects of the PM and Carrie Symonds’ lifestyle.
One donor is alleged to have said: ‘I don’t mind paying for leaflets but I resent being asked to pay to literally wipe the Prime Minister’s baby’s bottom.’
Mr Raab said he had ‘no idea’ if the claim was correct, adding: ‘You don’t have conversations like that with the PM.’
A No 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister ‘has covered the cost of all childcare’, but did not say whether he paid for the original bill himself.
The Foreign Secretary declined to deny a claim that a second invoice for the renovations may have been settled with the supplier by a Tory donor.
Mr Raab also sidestepped questions over whether Mr Johnson should resign if he is found to have broken the law by the Electoral Commission.
The Electoral Commission last week launched an investigation into whether any donations or loans were properly declared. It is also the subject of an internal review by the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, and there have been calls for the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone to investigate.
Mr Johnson last week said he has now paid the £58,000 cost overrun and described the row as a ‘farrago of nonsense’.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said yesterday: ‘We need to know who the Prime Minister is beholden to, we need to know what he has promised in return.’
Mr Johnson’s chaotic decision-making has led No 10 insiders to nickname him ‘Trolley’, according to the BBC.
One source said: ‘You think you are pushing it along a path towards your goal then suddenly it veers off disastrously.’
Downing Street has declined to comment on the name.
The PM is pictured together with Douglas Ross on a visit to Elgin, Scotland in the 2019 election campaign