Boris Johnson broke ministerial code jetting to the Hartlepool by-election on taxpayer funds, Conservative Party spending return suggests

  • The Conservative Party spending return says it spent £0 on transport for the Hartlepool by-election.
  • But Boris Johnson flew to the area for an official visit and to campaign.
  • The Ministerial Code says travel costs for official and political visits must be split between the government and the party.

Henry Dyer 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used taxpayer funds to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election, breaching the Ministerial Code, a copy of the Conservative Party’s spending return suggests.

The spending return, which was obtained by Insider, outlined the costs of the campaign, which the Conservatives won.

On April 1, five days after the regulated period for the by-election started — during which spending in support of a candidate must be declared — Johnson flew by private jet from London Stansted to Teesside International Airport, near Middlesbrough. 

Johnson travelled in a motorcade from the airport to Middlesbrough, where he conducted official government business promoting a rise in the minimum wage at the DIY store B&Q. 

He was then driven to Hartlepool, where he met with the Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer for a visit to the local company Hart Biologicals, supporting her campaign in the constituency. The pair then visited a nearby housing estate for doorknocking, leafleting, and speaking to residents, the Hartlepool Mail reported.

That afternoon, Johnson flew back from Teesside International Airport to Stansted.

‘Transport: Nil’

None of the costs of Johnson’s travel by plane or car appear to be included in the spending return, which says the candidate spent nothing on transport.

Summary of Conservative Party expenditures in the Hartlepool by-election.Conservative Party

Electoral Commission guidance says transport costs should include the cost of transporting “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.”

Parties can spend up to £100,000 in by-elections. The Conservatives say they spent a total of £86,991.77.

The Ministerial Code says ministers “must not use government resources for Party political purposes.” It also 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.”

The spending return, signed by Mortimer and her election agent, Diane Clarke OBE, suggests the party did not pay for any of the cost of Johnson’s journey to Hartlepool on April 1. 

The spending return also shows that all campaign expenditure was run through Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

None of the expenditure listed in a separate document provided by CCHQ to Clarke is stated to relate to the cost of transport, or to a portion of travel costs:

An invoice produced by Conservative Campaign Headquarters showing a spending breakdown.The Conservative Party

Unlike other parties’ returns, the Conservatives do not provide invoices from the suppliers, only a single invoice of purchases made centrally by CCHQ.

A Conservative Party spokesperson told Insider: “Tours and associated costs […] were all declared in accordance with the rules and feature on the return under ‘Staff Costs.'”

“All candidate election expenses were included in the return made in accordance with the Representation of the People Act by the candidate’s agent,” they added.

The Conservative Party did not respond to Insider’s requests for evidence that the £24,154.02 staff costs included transportation, in addition to the cost of paying for party staff to work on the six-week campaign.

The party also did not respond to a request to see an invoice showing a repayment of transport costs to the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for invoices showing repayment of transport costs from the Conservative Party.

For comparison, the Labour Party’s return for its Hartlepool campaign says it spent £32,665.11 on staff costs, plus an additional £8929.50 on transport.

This amount is closer to the spending of staff costs by the Conservative Party in two other by-elections held this year: In Chesham and Amersham, the Conservatives spent £32,246.42 on staff costs, while in Batley and Spen they spent £33,773.34.

Johnson did not fly to campaign in either Chesham and Amersham or Batley and Spen, according to flight data.

Further visits were made by Johnson to Hartlepool on April 23 and May 3, and by Home Secretary Priti Patel on April 29. Johnson and Patel campaigned with and for Mortimer on all of these occasions. 

Labour calls for an investigation

The Labour Party is demanding an investigation into a breach of the Ministerial Code by Johnson. 

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s deputy leader, told Insider: “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.

“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.”

Rayner has written to Lord Geidt, the prime minister’s independent advisor on ministerial standards, and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the UK’s most senior civil servant, demanding to know if public funds were used for party political campaigning by the prime minister.

In her letter, seen by Insider, Rayner says that Johnson cannot pretend he was unaware of the expenditure.

“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,” the letter says.

“I trust that in the course of your inquiry you will also refer any evidence of illegal and criminal behaviour in breach of the Representation of the People Act in relation to the non-declaration of election expenses and donations in kind, the submission of false returns and any other wrongdoing.”

A Downing Street spokesperson told Insider: “The Prime Minister visited Teesside on official Government business, meeting workers to coincide with an increase in the national living wage. This was followed by a short political visit, as permitted by the Ministerial Code.

“All relevant costs have been correctly accounted for and appropriately proportioned. At all times Government rules and electoral requirements have been followed in relation to Ministerial visits.”

Downing Street pointed to section 10.16 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.”

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