Boris Johnson treats election-spending laws ‘with contempt,’ Labour says in letter demanding Electoral Commission probe into Hartlepool by-election travel

Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
  • Labour is calling for the Electoral Commission to probe the Conservatives' spending in Hartlepool.
  • The party spent £86,991.77 out of a £100,000 spending limit, and said they spent £0 on transport.
  • Official rules say the PM's flight to the area to campaign should be split between party and government.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Labour Party has called for an Electoral Commission investigation into Conservative Party spending in the Hartlepool by-election, saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson treats rules on election spending "with contempt."

Angela Rayner MP, deputy leader of Labour, wrote to Bob Posner, chief executive of the Electoral Commission, on Tuesday, asking for the Electoral Commission to open an investigation. The letter can be seen in full below.

The letter came in response to Insider's Monday report that the Conservative Party's spending return in the Hartlepool by-election declared "nil" spending on transport, despite Johnson's flying to the area to campaign in the constituency in a government jet.

On April 1, in the early days of the campaign, Johnson flew from London Stansted Airport to Teesside International Airport, first for an official government visit at a DIY store in Middlesbrough, then for a political campaigning visit to Hartlepool with the Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer. Mortimer eventually won 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. A Conservative Party spokesperson previously told Insider that "tours and associated costs" were all declared under "staff costs," but did not respond to requests for evidence that those costs included transportation.

angela rayner
Angela Rayner MP.

In her Tuesday letter, Rayner said that if the Conservatives did pay for a portion of the actual cost of the flight, then the Electoral Commission should investigate the possibility that those costs were met by a party donor.

"Can you confirm that if the Prime Minister's travel was subsequently paid for by the Conservative Party and/or a Conservative Party donor - as in the case of the redecoration of the Prime Minister's flat - then this spending should be included in the spending return as an election expense?" Rayner wrote.

"The Prime Minister treats the laws and rules that declare election expenses, donations and financial interests with contempt. His contempt for the rules and laws that uphold standards and integrity in our public life has polluted our politics and is having a hugely damaging impact on public trust in our politics and our democracy," she wrote.

The Electoral Commission investigation into the funding of the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, which was allegedly secretly funded by Conservative donors, is still underway.

In the letter, Rayner asked Posner if he will ensure that "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" is referred to the police.

Rayner's letter follows a letter by Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour's chair, to Amanda Milling MP, the co-chair of the Conservative Party, asking for an explanation of who paid for Johnson's jet and proof that the Conservatives did not break the Ministerial Code or electoral-spending law.

Read Angela Rayner's letter to Bob Posner in full:

Dear Bob

I am writing to you regarding the financing of the Prime Minister's travel for party political campaigning purposes. As you will be aware, the Prime Minister travelled by plane to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election on April 5th - within the regulated period for the by-election - however none of the costs of the Prime Minister's travel are included in the Conservative's spending return for the by-election, which was submitted with £0 of spend for transport.

This appears to be a clear breach of the Ministerial Code which states that government resources should not be used for party political purposes, and 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." I have already written to the Cabinet Secretary and the government's independent adviser on ministers' interests Lord Geidt demanding an investigation into the Prime Minister breaching the code.

Electoral Commission guidance states that transport costs include the cost of transporting volunteers, party members, staff members or other campaigners around the electoral area or to and from the electoral area where they are undertaking campaigning on behalf of the candidate. Can you confirm that this includes the Prime Minister travelling around, to and from the electoral area via private plane and by car to campaign on behalf and with the candidate (as evidenced by social media posts published by Jill Mortimer)?

Electoral Commission guidance also makes clear that the cost of transport that is paid for by a political party or third party or reimbursed by a political party or third party, presumably including the Conservative Party or a Conservative Party donor, should also be included in spending returns. Can you confirm that if the Prime Minister's travel was subsequently paid for by the Conservative Party and/or a Conservative Party donor - as in the case of the redecoration of the Prime Minister's flat - then this spending should be included in the spending return as an election expense?

As you are aware given your ongoing investigation into the funding arrangements surrounding the redecoration of the Prime Minister's flat, the Prime Minister treats the laws and rules that declare election expenses, donations and financial interests with contempt. His contempt for the rules and laws that uphold standards and integrity in our public life has polluted our politics and is having a hugely damaging impact on public trust in our politics and our democracy.

I know that you take the Electoral Commission's responsibility to promote public confidence in our democratic process and ensure its integrity is upheld with the utmost seriousness. With this in mind, I hope that in accordance with the Commission's general duty to monitor compliance with the candidate expenditure and donation rules you will investigate this matter to get to the bottom of whether any wrongdoing has taken place, including any further dodgy deals involving Conservative Party donors secretly paying off or reimbursing the Conservative Party or the public purse and/or clearing the Prime Minister's debts from billing the taxpayer.

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.

Given the public interest in this matter I will be making this letter public.

Yours sincerely

Angela Rayner MP

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