Cabinet Secretary Asked To Investigate If Boris Johnson Broke Ministerial Code With Police 'Stunt'

PM under fire for asking police officers to form backdrop for "naked electioneering" speech. West Yorkshire police chief "disappointed" in Johnson.
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Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill has been asked to investigate whether Boris Johnson broke the ministerial code by conscripting police officers to stand behind him in a piece of “naked electioneering”.

The prime minister has been roundly criticised for giving a wandering speech largely focused on Brexit and his demands for a general election at a police training college in Yorkshire on Thursday evening.

West Yorkshire Police chief constable John Robins has said he was disappointed to see his police officers “used as a backdrop” to the part of Johnson’s speech,

One recruit even became unwell and had to sit down during an address lasting at least 20 minutes. The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson has demanded an apology.

In a letter sent to Sedwill this morning, Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said the “stunt” appeared to be a “direct and deliberate” breach of the propriety guidance for government communications.

The rules state “publicly-funded government communications cannot be used primarily or solely to meet party political objectives”.

“I write to make a formal complaint about yet another piece of naked electioneering, at the taxpayers’ expense, by the PM,” Brake said.

“This time, as well as abusing public money, there is a strong case that the PM has wasted police time too. I will be following that aspect up with West Yorkshire police.

“You will be aware that the PM is seeking a snap general election and therefore every such photo op and press release, is nothing more than a piece of Conservative electoral campaigning.

“What you may not be aware of is that other police commanders when approached by MPs decline this type of request and do not allow officers to be used for election material.”

Brake said Johnson’s speech also appeared to breach the ministerial code in three places.

According to to the code, “ministers must not use government resources for party political purposes”, “official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of material which is essentially party political” and “official facilities paid for out of public funds … may not be used for the dissemination of material which is essentially party political”.

Sedwill has also been asked to clarify who enforces the ministerial code when it is the prime minister who is accused to breaking it - given it is the PM himself who enforces the rulebook.

Chief constable John Robins said: “I repeat that I am pleased that we were chosen as the focal point of the national recruitment campaign launch, but the good news of extra officers was overshadowed by the media coverage of other events.

“It was the understanding of West Yorkshire Police that any involvement of our officers was solely about police officer recruitment. We had no prior knowledge that the speech would be broadened to other issues until it was delivered.

“Minutes before the speech, we were told that the NPAS visit and subsequent brief to a small media pool had been cancelled. I was therefore disappointed to see my police officers as a backdrop to the part of the speech that was not related to recruitment.”

Labour’s shadow policing minister Louise Haigh has also written to the Cabinet Office to ask how many officers had rest days cancelled or were taken away from their duties to attend the event, and whether the West Yorkshire force’s chief constable had been told the event would “stray beyond the police recruitment campaign when the request was made to supply officers”.

The government has pledged to recruit 20,000 new police officers.

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