Sadiq Khan cleared of breaching City Hall code of conduct with Elizabeth line opening

Sadiq Khan with Grant Shapps and Boris Johnson on the day the Elizabeth Line opened  (PA)
Sadiq Khan with Grant Shapps and Boris Johnson on the day the Elizabeth Line opened (PA)

Sadiq Khan has been cleared of breaching City Hall’s code of conduct after being accused by Grant Shapps of using the opening of the Elizabeth line to win votes for the Labour party.

Transport for London announced on May 4 last year – the day before the London council elections – that the long-awaited £20bn Elizabeth line would be opening on May 24.

But Mr Shapps, who at the time was Transport Secretary, claimed the announcement was an “act of breathtaking political cynicism” by the mayor and broke rules on political announcements being made in the run-up to elections.

However it has now emerged that Mr Khan has been cleared by the Greater London Authority’s monitoring officer, Emma Strain, of any wrongdoing.

She found that he had neither breached City Hall’s code of conduct nor its rules on use of resources or its publicity code.

She found that Mr Khan “did not have any involvement” in the timing of the opening announcement – and said the Department for Transport had been notified in advance by TfL of its plans at least two months earlier.

Ms Strain added: “It was entirely legitimate and proper for the Mayor to comment on something that affects all Londoners.

“I do not consider that a reasonable member of the public would be likely to be influenced to vote for a particular individual political party during the election due to the opening [of the Elizabeth line].”

Sadiq Khan on the day the Elizabeth Line opened (REUTERS)
Sadiq Khan on the day the Elizabeth Line opened (REUTERS)

A GLA spokesperson said: “The GLA Monitoring Officer has investigated this complaint in accordance with the GLA complaints guidance. She has concluded that there has not been a breach by the Mayor of the GLA’s code of conduct.”

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “The Elizabeth Line is the most significant addition to our transport network in decades, helping build a better city for all Londoners. The Mayor welcomes the outcome of the monitoring officer’s investigation.”

Mr Shapps, who is now the Energy Secretary, has been approached for comment.

Details of the complaint, which have been published on the GLA website, show that Mr Shapps raised concerns about the timing of TfL’s announcement and Mr Khan’s subsequent comments, which were issued in an official press release.

Mr Khan is also the chair of TfL but was not found to have had any involvement on the choice of opening day. The decision on when to open the line was made by the then TfL commissioner Andy Byford, Ms Strain’s report states.

The May 5 elections were being held across the 32 London boroughs. There were no mayoral or London Assembly elections on that date.

In his complaint, Mr Shapps said it was “wholly unacceptable for the Mayor of London, in an official capacity, to disregard the requirement for heightened sensitivity the day before polling day”.

But Mr Khan, in his response to Ms Strain’s investigation, said the Elizabeth line had been a “long-term endeavour” supported by politicians of different political persuasions.

He wrote: “To my knowledge, none of the people closely associated with the project were standing for election on May 5, nor was it a point of contention in any local election campaigns – unsurprisingly, given the cross-party support that exists for it.

“The decision to announce on Wednesday 4 May the opening date for the Elizabeth line was an operational one taken by the Commissioner of Transport for London.

“While I did not, and do not, believe that it was wrong for an announcement to be made, I did question him at our meeting about whether it was possible to delay the announcement until after the local elections, given the risk of some people inaccurately suggesting that this was a requirement of the relevant pre-election rules.

“The commissioner responded that the only way for the news to not become public was for the opening date to be delayed. Clearly this would not have been in the public interest and therefore an announcement was necessary.”

Mr Khan added: “It would have been perverse for us, as joint sponsors of a £19 billion railway, to not make any comment on this significant news.

“Something is not controversial merely because someone, perhaps with a political purpose in mind, alleges that it is.”

Ms Strain said that officers from DfT and TfL exchanged information over the weeks following March 1, 2022 and in the run-up to the announcement.

“It is clear to me from the information provided that the principles for the launch announcement were understood by all parties at least two months in advance, if not earlier.

“It is also clear from the information provided to me by the Mayor and by the TfL Commissioner that, in his capacity as Mayor of London, the Mayor did not have any involvement in the timing of the decision to announce.

“As such, I do not consider that the Mayor was involved in the decision about the timing of the announcement of the Elizabeth Line opening date during the pre-election period. As such, I do not consider that there was any breach of the publicity code or the code by the Mayor.”

She said that a “reasonable person” would not have associated the Elizabeth Line project and its long-awaited opening with a particular political party or particular political candidate.

“As the Mayor of London, I consider that Londoners would have expected the Mayor to comment on such a significant milestone in the long-awaited history of the building of the Elizabeth Line,” she said.

“I do not consider that the Mayor acted in such a way to have used the GLA’s resources improperly for political purposes. It was entirely legitimate and proper for the Mayor to comment on something that affects all Londoners.

“I therefore do not consider that in making a statement that, in itself, was a breach of the Code of Publicity or the Code or the GLA’s Use of Resources guidance”.