Angela Rayner has called for an inquiry following reports that Boris Johnson used taxpayer funds to pay for travel in order to campaign for the Conservative candidate in the Hartlepool by-election, in breach of the ministerial code.
According to an official Conservative Party spending return for the campaign, obtained by Business Insider, no transport costs were recorded suggesting that the Prime Minister’s expenses were paid for by government funds.
It is understood that Johnson travelled by private jet from London Stansted to Teeside International Airport before being driven to Middlesborough to conduct official government business on April 1st.
He was subsequently driven to Hartlepool to meet with Tory candidate Jill Mortimer and visit a local company supporting her campaign, before going door-knocking, leafleting and talking to constituents. He flew back to London later that day.
Mortimer tweeted at the time: “Delighted to have Boris Johnson visit Hartlepool to discuss my plan for jobs and investment. Visited Hart Biologicals to meet staff and see their brilliant work. We then went out campaigning with the Tees Valley mayor.”
The ministerial code states that ministers “must not use government resources for party political purposes”, and that “official transport should not normally be used for travel arrangements arising from party business”.
In a letter to Lord Geidt today, the deputy Labour leader demanded that the government’s independent adviser on ministerial standards investigate Johnson’s travel to Hartlepool and any travel for subsequent by-elections this year.
She also highlighted that, according to the code, for visits where there is a “mix of political and official engagements” the Conservative Party would be expected to pay for a “proper proportion of the actual cost”.
“Yet again the Prime Minister behaves like the rules don’t apply to him. Taxpayers’ money should not be abused to fund the Conservative Party’s election campaigns,” Rayner said this afternoon.
“The Prime Minister has clearly broken the ministerial code, and this time he can’t play ignorant and pretend that he didn’t know what was going on.
“The contempt with which the Prime Minister treats the laws governing election expenses and the rules that are supposed to uphold standards in our public life shows that he is only ever interested in helping himself, not acting in the interests of the British people.”
Electoral Commission guidance states that transport costs should include the costs for “party members, including staff members […] around the electoral area, or to and from the electoral area […] where they are undertaking campaigning on behalf of the candidate”.
The Hartlepool Mail reported Johnson’s visit to the constituency during the by-election campaign period, during which he spoke to residents and took selfies with locals, just over a month before voters headed to the polls.
The opposition party lost the Hartlepool parliamentary constituency, which had been Labour since its creation, in the by-election on May 6th as candidate Dr Paul Williams was beaten by a margin of nearly 7,000 votes.
Below is the full text of the letter sent to Lord Geidt.
Dear Lord Geidt
Cc: Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary
I am writing to you, again, regarding an apparent breach of the Ministerial Code by the Prime Minister.
Paragraph 1.3i of the Ministerial Code states that “Ministers must not use government resources for Party political purposes”. Paragraph 10.15 of the Ministerial Code clearly states that: “Where a visit is a mix of political and official engagements, it is important that the department and the Party each meet a proper proportion of the actual cost”. This follows paragraph 10.1, setting out the “general principles” that “official transport should not normally be used for travel arrangements arising from Party business”.
However, on the 1st April the Prime Minister used his taxpayer-funded government plane to fly to Teesside Airport for a party political campaign visit in support of the Conservative Party candidate in the Hartlepool by-election. The Conservative Party candidate Jill Mortimer subsequently posted photographs of the Prime Minister meeting people in Hartlepool with the statement “delighted to have Boris Johnson visit Hartlepool to discuss my plan for jobs and investment… We then went out campaigning”.
The Conservative Party candidate’s spending returns for the Hartlepool by election state “Nil” for spending on transport, so the cost of the Prime Minister’s travel to Hartlepool for the party political purposes of campaigning in the by-election for the Conservative candidate has presumably been met by the taxpayer, not the Conservative Party, in clear breach of the Ministerial Code. Even if the visit was a “mix of political and official engagements”, the Ministerial Code is clear that the Conservative Party should have met a “proper proportion” of the cost of the travel in this instance.
I therefore urge you to investigate this apparent breach of the Ministerial Code, and any further such breaches involving the Prime Minister making subsequent visits to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election during April and May of this year, in addition to other Conservative Ministers who may also have similarly travelled to Hartlepool for party political purposes on the taxpayer.
Following your investigation into the funding arrangements surrounding the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat and our subsequent correspondence, you cleared the Prime Minister because he apparently did not ever know – or even seek to ever find out – who was in fact paying for the refurbishment that was going on around him in his home. Given the Prime Minister clearly walked himself up the steps onto his taxpayer-funded plane, and walked himself around Hartlepool talking to voters during a party political visit during a by-election campaign, this excuse can clearly not be used on this occasion.
I trust that in the course of your inquiry you will also refer to the police any evidence of illegal and criminal behaviour in breach of the Representation of the People Act including but not limited to the non-declaration of election expenses and donations in kind, the submission of false returns and any other wrongdoing.
Due to the public interest in this matter I will be making this letter public.
Rt Hon Angela Rayner MP
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster