Rayner calls for investigation after Johnson press conference attack on Khan

Sienna Rodgers
© Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street

Labour’s deputy leader and party chair Angela Rayner has called for for an investigation into the conduct of Boris Johnson after the Prime Minister used a coronavirus press conference to launch a political attack on Sadiq Khan.

The opposition party has accused the Prime Minister of making “false statements” during the Downing Street press conference on Monday evening and of breaching the Ministerial Code by criticising Labour’s London mayoral candidate.

Ministers are banned from using government resources for party political campaigning. The code states that “official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of party political material”.

Johnson was in the new taxpayer-funded £2.6m Downing Street press room when he attacked the Labour candidate on primetime BBC television, an organisation bound by strict impartiality rules, ahead of the bumper set of May elections.

“As for the finances of [Transport for London] I must respectfully remind you that I left them in robust, good order. It is not through any fault of my own the current Labour mayor decided to blow them all on an irresponsible fares policy,” he said.

“We are doing our best to help them out and we will continue to do so. But I’m afraid you have to look at some of the decisions that were taken by the current Labour mayor as well. I hesitate to make a point like that but since you rightly draw attention to the fact I’m a proud former mayor of London I do think we could look at the way TfL is being run.

“That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to continue to support – of course we are – but we do need to have some responsibility from the mayor as well. And I’m afraid there was a black hole in TfL’s finances even before Covid began as I’m sure you and your readers all recollect.”

Khan tweeted: “The PM lied yet again from a £2.6m taxpayer-funded press conference. Covid-19 is the sole cause of TfL’s challenges. Before the pandemic I was fixing his mess at TfL – reducing the deficit by 71% compared to what he left.”

A spokesman for London Labour said: “It is depressingly predictable that the Prime Minister used a press conference that was supposed to be a vital Covid update to make yet another unprompted political attack.”

Labour has countered that these comments are inaccurate because before coronavirus hit the capital Khan reduced the operating deficit of TfL over four years by 71% and increased cash reserves by 13%.

As London mayor, Johnson in 2015 gave TfL’s annual £700m direct grant back to the Treasury, making London the only major city in western Europe to have not received direct government funding to run day-to-day transport services.

Transport for London relies heavily on passenger fares to pay for its services as a result, which reinforced the impact of the pandemic that saw a 95% fall in passenger numbers as people were told to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

Rayner has now written to Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, to express “concern about public resources being deliberately used during a pre-election period to influence the outcome of an election” and “for party political gain”.

Below is the full text of Angela Rayner’s letter.

To: Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary

Cc: Darren Tierney, Director General, Propriety and Ethics in the Cabinet Office.

Dear Mr Case

I am writing to express my concern about public resources being deliberately used during a pre-election period to influence the outcome of an election. 

During the Downing Street press conference on Monday evening (5 April 2021) – which was supposed to be an update on Covid-19 – the Prime Minister chose to launch a political attack on Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London and Labour’s candidate in the upcoming London Mayoral election. The attack was political in nature, unprompted, and entirely unrelated to either the topic of the press conference or the question the Prime Minister was asked. 

The Prime Minister also made false statements regarding Transport for London‘s (TfL) finances in his answer. Sadiq Khan spent the first four years of his mayoralty fixing the mess left by the previous Mayor, Boris Johnson, who bargained away TfL’s £700m per year direct operating grant. As Mayor, Sadiq had successfully reduced TfL’s deficit by £1 billion and increased cash reserves by 13 per cent before the pandemic hit. For the Prime Minister to suggest that TfL’s finances are in trouble for any reason other than a 90 per cent drop in passengers during lockdown due to the pandemic is an insult to Londoners and highly misleading.

The Ministerial Code, by which government ministers are bound, clearly states that official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of party political material. This includes the Prime Minister’s new media briefing room, which cost the British taxpayer £2.6 million. The Prime Minister has a lot of experience with the Ministerial Code – his Home Secretary was found to have breached it after bullying staff, prompting his independent advisor on ethics and ministerial standards to resign. The British people would rightly not expect a Prime Minister who has spent so much first-hand experience of dealing with matters relating to the Code to be so blatant in flouting it during a pre-election period. 

Just last week the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary said that he ‘acts with integrity and honesty and he follows the Nolan principles when conducting himself in public life’, but his actions on Monday evening clearly directly contradict those principles. As I am sure that will agree, accountability to the Code is crucial in maintaining integrity and public trust in public life and our politics. I would urge you to investigate whether the Prime Minister did indeed breach the Ministerial Code and, if so, what steps you will take to censure the Prime Minister and ensure that he does not repeat this behaviour including him issuing a public apology for misusing public resources for party political gain and misleading the public.

I look forward to your early reply setting out how you intend to respond to this incident

Angela Rayner

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