LONDON—Boris Johnson is a liar.
This is not a new charge against a man who was fired from his first proper job as a journalist for dishonesty, and fired from his first major political role for being economical with the truth. But this is the first time an independent watchdog has formally catalogued one of his untruths and published the findings in an official report.
Despite the birth of a second child with his current wife on Thursday—believed to be his seventh or eighth in total—Johnson is enduring the worst week of his premiership.
The latest insult—or confirmation—that Britain’s leader is not an honest man follows another crisis born out of the prime minister’s inability to tell the truth.
Last week, The Mirror newspaper reported that a big Christmas party was held at Johnson’s official residence, No. 10 Downing Street, late last year in contravention of the lockdown rules he had imposed on the rest of the country. Instead of apologizing for the insensitivity of holding a boozy bash while thousands of Britons were unable to give their dying relatives a final hug in the hospital or share their grandparents’ last festive season because they were sticking to the rules, Johnson told the House of Commons that no such party had taken place.
Over the course of seven days, that particular whopper unraveled and Johnson resorted to asking Britain’s most senior civil servant to hold an inquiry into whether or not he had been telling Parliament the truth.
By Wednesday this week, the prime minister’s credibility was under attack from the media, opposition politicians, the public and—crucially—his own Conservative Party colleagues. On Thursday, the latest blow to his faltering integrity came from the Electoral Commission.
The democratic oversight body had been tasked with looking into the luxury refurbishment carried out in Johnson’s private Downing Street apartment last year. Boris and Carrie Johnson were not satisfied with the $40,000 annual allowance of public money, reportedly spending more than $250,000 in total, including wallpaper that sells for more than $1,000 per roll.
The additional costs were covered through a complex set of loans and donations from private backers funneled through the Conservative Party. Johnson paid the money back after news of the extravagant refurb hit the newspapers.
The Electoral Commission announced Thursday that it was fining the Conservative Party for “failing to accurately report a donation” of £52,000 ($69,000) from Lord Brownlow toward the cost of the redecorations.
More damagingly for Johnson, the Commission’s report also found that the prime minister’s had not told the truth during an earlier inquiry into the matter.
The prime minister told Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, that he didn’t know who had made that donation until it appeared in the newspapers in February 2020. Lord Geidt had no real power to investigate whether that was the case and he cleared the prime minister of breaching the ministerial code in May.
The Electoral Commission did have that power. It decided it had “reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence had been committed” and issued legal requests for the receipts. It gathered evidence including bank statements, invoices, and WhatsApp messages.
Among those messages were WhatsApps from Johnson asking Lord Brownlow to authorize further refurbishment works in November 2020—three months before Johnson claimed he knew who was making the donations.
No. 10 argued on Thursday that Johnson didn’t know Lord Brownlow was the “ultimate donor.”
Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, said Johnson “must now explain why he lied to the British public.”
“Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools. He has not only broken the law but made a mockery of the standards we expect from our prime ministers.”