Boris Johnson faces potential criminal investigation over his links with an American businesswoman after the Greater London Authority referred the prime minister to a policing watchdog over alleged favours granted to Jennifer Arcuri when he was mayor of London.

The GLA monitoring officer — an ethics watchdog — announced on Friday evening it had raised a “conduct matter” regarding Mr Johnson with the Independent Office for Police Conduct for possible investigation over misconduct in public office.

The referral was made five days after the Sunday Times first reported the friendship between Mr Johnson when he was mayor of London and Ms Arcuri, a technology entrepreneur.

The referral has been made to the IOPC, a policing watchdog, because of Mr Johnson’s role when mayor as head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, which oversees the capital’s Metropolitan Police force.

“Allegations have been brought to the attention of the monitoring officer that Boris Johnson maintained a friendship with Jennifer Arcuri and as a result of that friendship allowed Ms Arcuri to participate in trade missions and receive sponsorship monies in circumstances when she and her companies could not have expected otherwise to receive those benefits,” a GLA statement said.

Theresa Villiers, environment secretary, said the allegations were politically motivated

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Saturday morning, she said: “I think this whole thing has been blown out of all proportion.

“The prime minister is very clear that proprieties were observed. This seems to be pretty obviously a politically motivated complaint.

“The prime minister has been clear there is nothing to see here. I do feel this is a distraction and it is people seeking to use the complaints process in a highly political way.”

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The investigation comes as opposition parties seeking to prevent a no-deal Brexit consider the possibility of forcing Mr Johnson out of Number 10.

Stewart Hosie, the SNP’s trade spokesman, said on Saturday that he believed a no-confidence motion would be tabled in the Commons next week.

He said the Labour party should have the first chance to form a new administration and called on the Liberal Democrats to “stop playing political games”.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested on Friday she could support a time-limited government led by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

However, opposition parties are split on who the caretaker prime minister should be in the event Mr Johnson lost a no-confidence vote. Labour maintained its position on Friday that Mr Corbyn, as the official leader of the opposition, should lead any interim government.

A Lib Dem official said the party did not believe there was “any way” Mr Corbyn had the numbers in parliament to support him taking on such a role and urged him to allow a backbench MP to take up the role. Most of the Independent MPs, who were kicked out of the Conservative party earlier this month, are also opposed to installing Mr Corbyn as a caretaker prime minister.

In a letter sent to Mr Johnson and published alongside the GLA statement, the monitoring officer laid out the detail of the claims that had prompted him to refer the mayor to the IOPC.

The letter said Innotech, Ms Arcuri’s then company, received £11,500 from London & Partners, the mayor’s promotional agency, for two events in 2013 and 2014. It added that Ms Arcuri was able in November 2014 to attend a trade mission to Singapore and Malaysia through Playbox, one of her companies, even though an initial application through Innotech had been declined.

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It said Ms Arcuri had been allowed to participate in events around two other trade missions — to New York in February 2015 and Israel in November 2015 — although she had not qualified for the New York mission and had been rejected for the mission to Israel.

The reference to the IOPC follows a difficult week for Mr Johnson, in which he was forced to fly back early from the UN in New York after the Supreme Court found he had acted unlawfully in seeking a five-week prorogation, or suspension, of parliament.

The prime minister has insisted he acted with “complete propriety” when London mayor after he was questioned over his links with Ms Arcuri. The senior source said the monitoring officer had given no evidence for the allegations and the prime minister had been given no opportunity to respond to the monitoring officer before the statement was issued.

Mr Johnson’s record of electoral success and popularity when he was London’s elected mayor between 2008 and 2016 was one of his main selling points during his successful campaign for the Conservative leadership this year.

The GLA said a conduct matter could be raised when there was information that a criminal offence might have been committed.

It went on: “It does not mean that this is proved in any way. The IOPC will now consider if it is necessary for the matter to be investigated.”

The Greater London Assembly, the GLA’s legislature, had earlier this week, in a separate process, given Mr Johnson two weeks to respond to questions on his alleged ties with Ms Arcuri.

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Ms Arcuri did not immediately respond to a request for comment via her email address listed on the website of Hacker House, her current main business.

Via Financial Times