PM could face election rules complaint after attack on Sadiq Khan

6 April 2021, 21:26 | Updated: 6 April 2021, 22:57

London Labour is considering writing a formal complaint about Boris Johnson's comments
London Labour is considering writing a formal complaint about Boris Johnson's comments. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson could face an election rules complaint following his verbal attack on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan yesterday.

Speaking during Monday's coronavirus press briefing from Downing Street, the prime minister accused the mayor of "blowing" Transport for London's (TfL) finances through an "irresponsible fares policy".

Mr Johnson added that he had left them in "robust good order" during his tenure as the capital's mayor.

But the UK leader's comments were made during the pre-election purdah - which places limits on government publicity around the ballot - for the London mayoral vote on 6 May.

Restrictions detailed in the Local Government Act 1986 ban government officials from publishing "any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party".

On Tuesday, London Labour said the PM's comments about Mr Khan breached these regulations.

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A spokesperson for the party confirmed it is considering writing a formal letter of complaint to the BBC and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who is also head of the civil service.

On Monday, Mr Khan - who is seeking a second term as Mayor of London - took to Twitter to accuse the prime minister of lying during the press briefing.

He wrote: "The PM lied yet again from £2.6m taxpayer-funded press conference.

"Covid-19 is the sole cause of TfL’s challenges. Before the pandemic I was fixing his mess at TfL - reducing the deficit by 71% compared to what he left."

The following day, the Labour mayor used his manifesto launch at a play centre in north London to once again accuse the UK leader of using his government platform to "tell lies".

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He said: "If he's (Boris Johnson) going to use a government platform to talk politick, he should at least tell the truth.

"It is a fact that when I became mayor the TfL's deficit was more than £1.5 billion. I reduced it by more than 71 per cent before the pandemic. But also he increased TfL's debt by more than £7 billion.

"I think it is inappropriate for all of us to follow the rules and abide by the rules, and Boris Johnson to yet again break the rules in the way he's done.

"Firstly, during the purdah period using a government platform to attack a Labour candidate. But secondly, to tell lies."

Asked at Monday's press conference about the prospect of central government providing support for London's recovery from the pandemic, the PM said: "As for the finances of TfL, I must respectfully remind you that I left them in robust good order and it is not through any fault of my own that the current Labour mayor decided to blow them on an irresponsible fares policy.

"We're doing our best to help them out and will continue to do so. But I'm afraid you've got to look at some of the decisions that were taken by the current Labour mayor as well."

LBC has approached No10 for comment.

In his manifesto, Mr Khan says he wants to build a "greener, fairer, safer and more prosperous city".

If elected, he aims to avoid "a 1980s-type recession" by implementing a Green New Deal that "gives Londoners the skills they need for future-proof jobs in the green sector" such as in solar, electrified buses and retrofitting homes to be more energy-efficient.

At the launch event, Mr Khan stood by his commitment to launch a drugs commission that would investigate the merits of decriminalising cannabis, despite Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer telling the media that current drug laws are "roughly right".

Mr Khan said he would commission a cross-section of experts to look into the issue of decriminalising the drug, but would not "pre-judge the outcome".

"I've seen for myself the impact of violent crime linked with drugs. I've seen for myself the impact on health because of cannabis but I've got an open mind."

The mayor's main challengers are Shaun Bailey (Conservative), Luisa Porritt (Liberal Democrats) and Sian Berry (Green). All 25 seats in the London Assembly are also up for grabs.

Mr Bailey has claimed the Labour Party is "ashamed" of Mr Khan following his performance during his first term as London Mayor, according to the Express.

Meanwhile, Ms Berry said London "could be the greenest city in the world", but added "only a real Green Mayor can get us there".

Ms Porritt said: "Sadiq Khan refuses to talk about the elephant in the room - the Silvertown Tunnel. Why?

"Because he knows his £2bn polluting motorway shows he lacks the will to clean up London's air."