- Labour is demanding proof the Conservatives paid for the PM’s flight to campaign in Hartlepool.
- No. 10 insists Johnson broke no rules, as they permit journeys by road for party purposes.
- Labour’s Anneliese Dodds says this is irrelevant, unless Johnson taxied the jet up the motorway.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The Labour Party is demanding to see proof supporting Downing Street’s claim that Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not breach the Ministerial Code by flying in a government jet to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election earlier this year.
Anneliese Dodds MP, chair of the Labour Party, has written to Amanda Milling MP, co-chair of the Conservative Party, asking for proof that the Conservative Party did not break the Ministerial Code or electoral spending law.
In the letter, which was sent Tuesday, Dodds said Johnson appeared to be “taking taxpayers for a ride.” The letter can be seen in full below.
It came in response to Insider’s Monday report that the Conservative Party’s spending return for the by-election showed “nil” spending on transport.
Johnson flew from Stansted to Teesside International Airport on April 1, first for an official visit at a DIY store in Middlesbrough, and then for what Downing Street described as a “short political visit” to Hartlepool with the Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer, who went on to win the by-election.
The Ministerial Code says 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.”
Election-finance rules specify that transport costs must include the cost of transporting “party members, including staff members … to and from the electoral area … where they are undertaking campaigning on behalf of the candidate.”
But the Conservatives’ spending return suggested the party did not pay for the journey.
‘Unless the Prime Minister taxied his plane up the M1 …’
Downing Street has defended Johnson, citing another section of the Ministerial Code, which says the prime minister “may use their official cars for all journeys by road, including those for private or Party purposes.”
In the letter to Milling, seen by Insider, Dodds said she was unconvinced by Downing Street’s defence using this section of the Ministerial Code.
“That is interesting, but unless the Prime Minister taxied his plane up the M1 in order to reach Hartlepool – and I am perfectly happy to be corrected if it transpires that was the case – then I fail to see the relevance,” she said.
Dodds also questioned the spending return’s claim of “nil” expenditure, suggesting that one quote for a return flight in a “light jet” from Stansted to Teesside would cost around £7,000.
Johnson’s flight was in an Airbus A321neo. One quote for the aircraft from Stansted to Teesside suggests a cost of £120,000, according to the charter website PrivateFly. The spending limit in a by-election is £100,000.
‘Taking taxpayers for a ride’
Dodds told Insider: “Not for the first time, it looks like Boris Johnson has been taking taxpayers for a ride.
“Even by his standards, declaring that travel costs were ‘nil’ for a trip that saw him fly hundreds of miles in a Government plane and hit the campaign trail is outrageously brazen.
“The Conservative Party needs to publish the documents that show they weren’t using public money for party political ends. There can’t be one rule for them and another for everyone else.”
A Conservative Party spokesperson previously told Insider: “Tours and associated costs […] were all declared in accordance with the rules and feature on the return under ‘Staff Costs.'”
Dodds has asked the Conservative Party for a breakdown of these staff costs, which totalled £24,154.02. The Conservative Party spent around £33,000 on staff costs in each of two other by-elections held this year, and Johnson did not fly to those by-elections.
Conservative Campaign Headquarters did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.