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 Conservatives dismantled another brick from Labour’s Red Wall in May after Jill Mortimer became the town’s first-ever Tory MP.
She captured 15,529 votes – 52 per cent of the total, and nearly double the Conservative share in 2019 thanks to a visit from the PM on the campaign trail.
But according to the party’s spending return, which was obtained by Insider, his trip up was not included in the report, and could break the Ministerial Code as a result.
Johnson flew by private jet from London Stansted to Teesside International Airport, travelling in a motorcade 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.
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.
Electoral Commission guidance
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 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).
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 rules don’t apply to him
Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “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.
She claims that Johnson cannot pretend he was unaware of the expenditure, an excuse that has been used before.
The letter reads:
“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 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.”
It appears that the Prime Minister has broken the Ministerial Code, again, by using taxpayers’ money to fund a Conservative Party campaigning visit on his private plane.— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) August 23, 2021
He treats the rules with contempt and thinks they don’t apply to him. https://t.co/3uFSRxek3I