Government dismisses call for probe into possible by-election rule breach

PUBLISHED: 12:05 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:05 31 July 2019

Boris Johnson inspects a chicken at Shervington Farm in Newport. Pic: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire

Boris Johnson inspects a chicken at Shervington Farm in Newport. Pic: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire

Adrian Dennis/PA Wire

The government has swiftly dismissed a call into a possible breach of rules by Boris Johnson ahead of tomorrow's vital Brecon by-election.

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Plaid Cymru's international relations spokeswoman Delyth Jewell 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 tomorrow.

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, sent yesterday, Jewell said she suspected "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".

But today the government ruled out any investigation, saying the announcement had not been specific to Brecon and Radnorshire.

A spokesperson said: "The government announcement covered Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"This included more funding available for all growth deals, following an announcement of England-wide funding.

"The announcement included references to existing deals, such as the one for Mid Wales, and was not specific to any constituency, including where the by-election is taking place."

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Johnson announced the cash on Monday 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.

Meanwhile Wales' media were barred from asking Johnson any questions on camera during his flying visit to the country yesterday.

Journalists from BBC Wales, ITV Wales and WalesOnline complained that they were only allowed to ask questions without recording the answers for TV, radio or online.

"On Boris Johnson's first visit to Wales as PM, BBC Wales News and ITV Wales are refused the opportunity to ask him a single question on camera," BBC Wales' political editor Felicity Evans said.

ITV Wales' political editor Adrian Masters said he had refused to ask Johnson a question because he was not allowed to film the exchange.

"For the record then: on the prime minister's first visit to Wales the national news outlets of Wales ITV Wales, BBC Wales and WalesOnline weren't allowed interviews," he said. "We were offered chance to ask questions but not to film them.

"Also for the record, I refused this offer. I hate to have turned down the chance to challenge Boris Johnson but I wouldn't have been able to broadcast any of it. I'd have had to read quotes to the audience [last night].

"I do think it's a strange way to begin for a new prime minister who says he wants to strengthen the union to treat the main national news outlets this way."

Plaid have been joined by the Greens in not contesting the by-election tomorrow. 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.

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