Sadiq Khan has been cleared of bringing the mayoralty into disrepute after saying some anti-Ulez protesters were “joining hands” with the far-Right.
The mayor was also found not to have breached the City Hall code of conduct on bullying in the way he made the remarks – nor of making a racial slur by using the phrase “let’s call a spade a spade”.
An investigation was ordered by the Greater London Authority’s monitoring officer after 34 people complained about remarks made by Mr Khan at a “lively and disputatious” People’s Question Time public meeting in Ealing on March 2.
On the night, several protesters outside the meeting cited conspiracy theories such as “15-minute cities”. Some had signs depicting the mayor with a swastika and a hammer-and-sickle symbol, the Standard reported at the time.
During a debate on the Ulez expansion to the Greater London boundary, which subsequently went ahead in August as planned, Mr Khan said he found it “unacceptable” that “some of those with legitimate objections joining hands with someone outside part of a far-right group, who are ... let's be frank, let's call a spade a spade. Some of those outside are part of the far-right, some are Covid deniers, some are vaccine deniers and some are Tories.”
He added: “Some of you have good reasons to oppose Ulez, but you are in coalition with Covid deniers, you are in coalition, you may not like it... You are in coalition with the far Right and you are in coalition with vaccine deniers as well.”
On the night, Tory assembly member Peter Fortune said: “If you disagree with the Mayor, he’s going to paint you as far-Right. His assembly colleague Andrew Boff said: “If you disagree with him on Ulez, you get called a Nazi.”
The investigation, by barrister Matt Lewin, found Mr Khan – and the protesters – were exercising their rights of freedom of expression, which is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and common law.
He said there were few limits that could be placed on “political speech” – meaning Mr Khan had “enhanced protection” under the law.
Mr Lewin said: “This means that he had a very broad freedom to express his views, including by criticising his political opponents, and even if he did so in a way they perceived to be provocative, unfair or offensive.”
He said it was for the electorate to decide if what Mr Khan said was fair and justified. He said it was true that “some participants in the protest outside PQT were expressing conspiracy theories which are associated with far-Right political views”.
He said Mr Khan did not say that all Ulez opponents were part of the far-Right or covid/vaccine deniers.
While the claim that the protesters were “joining hands” or “in coalition with” conspiracy theorists was “undoubtedly provocative”, it had to be seen in the context of Mr Khan defending his flagship policy.
It was also a “legitimate concern and one that the Mayor was entitled to give voice to”, Mr Lewin’s report said.
He said the phrase “call a spade a spade” was not racist, despite evidence that “spade” has acquired a racist meaning in the US since the 1920s.
Mr Lewin concluded: “My recommendation to the Monitoring Officer is that none of these complaints should be upheld.”
A GLA spokesperson said: “An investigation has been carried out into these complaints in accordance with GLA complaints guidance.
“The GLA’s monitoring officer has confirmed that the Mayor has not breached the code of conduct.”
A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “The mayor has always been clear that expanding the ultra-low emission zone was a difficult but necessary decision.
“Latest data shows it is already working, with 95 per cent of vehicles seen driving in London on an average day now complying with air quality standards, making a huge difference to the lives and health of Londoners.
“Sadiq has been listening to Londoners with concerns about the scheme, which is why he expanded the scrappage scheme. The mayor welcomes the outcome of the monitoring officer’s investigation."