“People can be cross because they are tired,” said Andrew Gimson, one of Mr. Johnson’s biographers. “He was exhausted and he’d been through a near-fatal illness, from which he had not fully recovered when he made that remark.”

Others, however, predicted that the flap over Mr. Johnson’s refurbishment of his apartment would throw a harsh spotlight on his sense of impunity, lack of transparency and unwillingness to make do with the perks offered a prime minister.

Mr. Johnson already has access to an annual public grant of £30,000 ($41,600) to upgrade his quarters. Newspaper reports say he augmented that with funds from a Conservative Party donor because Ms. Symonds wanted to get rid of the furniture used by his predecessor, Theresa May, which had been described as being in the style of the British department store, John Lewis.

The government insists Mr. Johnson paid for the upgrade out of his own pocket, though it is unclear whether he repaid money from the donor. However it was financed, the couple’s apparent disdain for John Lewis-style décor may sit badly with ordinary people, for whom the store is a symbol of bourgeois prosperity.

“Johnson has always stayed one step ahead of the sheriff,” Mr. Powell said. “But at some stage in No. 10, you can’t get away with lies that can be proven to be lies.”

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