Call for probe into Boris Johnson over possible by-election rule breach

PUBLISHED: 15:16 30 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:16 30 July 2019

New prime minister Boris Johnson waves outside 10 Downing Street. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images

New prime minister Boris Johnson waves outside 10 Downing Street. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Plaid Cymru have written to the Cabinet secretary calling for a investigation into a possible breach of rules ahead of a vital by-election.

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The party's international relations spokeswoman Delyth Jewell has made the call following an announcement by Boris Johnson of a £300m fund which would cover an area which includes Brecon and Radnorshire, where a by-election is due to take place on Thursday. Johnson is visiting Wales today.

The Welsh secretary Alun Cairns also specifically refers to the money in an article published in the Western Mail today, just two days before the poll.

Under rules that govern UK elections, government bodies should not use public resources in a way that seeks to advance party political interests during a period an of election known as purdah.

Plaid - who are not standing in the election, having stepped aside to allow the Liberal Democrats a clearer run at the seat as part of a 'Remain alliance' - claim Johnson's announcement of money for the Mid Wales Growth Deal, which covers the constituency, breaks these rules.

In her letter to the Cabinet secretary Jewell says she suspects "that the actions of the prime minister and the secretary of state for Wales constitutes a breaking of the Ministerial Code and that the civil service may have therefore broken purdah rules by carrying out work in relation to the funding announcement on their behalf".

She adds: "I request that an immediate investigation be conducted into whether purdah rules have been breached, how much public resources were spent on this announcement and whether the Cabinet Office ethics and propriety team was consulted beforehand."

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Explaining her decision to call for the investigation, Jewell said: "Boris Johnson has been prime minister for less than a week and it appears he may be already falling foul of official rules guiding ministerial behaviour.

"I can think of no clearer breach of purdah rules than a funding announcement for Powys days before the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, a fact which is underlined by Alun Cairns' Western Mail article today, which makes reference to both.

"Does anyone believe that this announcement, which was made on the same week a by-election is held in a constituency they're desperate to hold to maintain their tiny majority, was not an attempt at electioneering?".

She said it was "already obvious that Boris Johnson will be a disaster for Wales as he gears up for a no-deal EU exit for which he has no mandate and no real idea about its consequences.

"He is very much mistaken if he thinks he will be given an easy ride, as Plaid Cymru will oppose him at every turn."

Johnson announced the cash yesterday for three growth deals in Scotland, two in Northern Ireland and one in Wales.

It is not yet decided how much of the £300m will go to Wales and the UK government said the allocation of the money would depend on the strength of proposals put forward.

Plaid have been joined by the Greens in not contesting the by-election on Thursday. Defeat for the Conservative candidate Chris Davies - whose conviction for a false expenses claim sparked the recall petition that led to the poll - would see the government's majority slashed to one.

The Cabinet Office has been contacted for comment.

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