LONDON: A senior British Conservative broke ranks on Sunday to call for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation if it is proven that he broke government rules over the funding of a lavish revamp of his Downing Street flat.

The call from Douglas Ross, leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, came as new opinion polls showed the ruling party’s lead over the main opposition Labour party has been slashed, ahead of British local elections on Thursday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Conservative party took seriously an investigation by the powerful Electoral Commission into the apartment funding, but dismissed the allegations as “tittle-tattle”.

He told Sky News television that Johnson had been “crystal clear” about paying for the redecoration himself, although Labour and others point out that he has failed to answer if the bill was secretly footed by a party donor initially.

Support for Conservatives has taken a hit

Raab also said he had “no idea” if the prime minister had sought help from Conservative donors to pay for his childcare and personal trainer, as reported by the Sunday Times.

The newspaper quoted one donor as saying: “I don’t mind paying for leaflets, but I resent being asked to pay to literally wipe the prime minister’s baby’s bottom.”

The Electoral Commission announced on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into the redecoration, which could potentially involve the police, after Johnson and his fiancée reportedly ran up a bill approaching $280,000.

Ross was asked on BBC television if the prime minister should quit if found to be in breach of the ministerial code.

“Of course,” replied the Scottish Conservative, who is trying to shore up the party’s support in Scotland against pro-independence parties in Thursday’s elections.

“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,” Ross said.

The Electoral Commission is looking at whether any party donations were legally declared, and Downing Street has launched two probes itself into the refurbishment.

Johnson on Thursday dismissed the row as a “farrago of nonsense”, but the new opinion polls suggested Labour’s repeated attacks on government “sleaze” are starting to pay off.

A Focaldata survey for the Sunday Times said the Conservatives’ previous strong lead had been wiped out and their UK-wide support now stood at 40 per cent, just a point above Labour.

Another poll by Opinium said the Conservative lead had fallen from 11 points to five, with Johnson’s party registering 42pc to Labour’s 37pc.

Johnson tried to regain the electoral initiative with a comment piece in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, calling for tougher action on drug criminals and on a wave of theft of dogs.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2021

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