Investigation clears Mayor of London over “far-right” ULEZ comments

05 Dec 2023

Public Law and Judicial Review, Local Government, Inquests and Inquiries

The Greater London Authority has declined to uphold 34 complaints about comments made by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, that “those with legitimate objections” to ULEZ were “in coalition with the far right … [and] vaccine deniers”. Accepting the recommendations of an independent investigator, the GLA concluded that these comments did not amount to a breach of its Code of Conduct.

On 2 March 2023, the Mayor attended a session of People’s Question Time in Ealing. At what was described as a “lively and … disputatious meeting”, the Mayor was confronted by protestors and objectors to his policy of expanding the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Some of the protestors outside the hall were carrying placards citing conspiracy theories about “15 minute cities” and government surveillance.

The complaints particularly concerned comments made by the Mayor in addressing those opposed to the ULEZ expansion, which included:

“What I find unacceptable, though, is some of those who’ve got legitimate objections joining hands with some of those outside who are part of a far-right group …  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.”

However, an investigation carried out by Matt Lewin, a member of Cornerstone Barristers’ Public Law team, concluded that the Mayor’s comments attracted “enhanced protection” as political speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – notwithstanding that his language was “provocative” and that “some people perceived [his comments] to be unfair, inaccurate or offensive.” To find these comments in breach of the GLA’s Code of Conduct would “risk a chilling effect on the democratic process.”

Accordingly, the investigation recommended that there had been no breach of the obligations in the GLA’s Code relating to respect, bullying and non-discrimination and that the Mayor had not brought his office into disrepute.

That recommendation was accepted by the GLA’s Monitoring Officer, in a decision issued on 30 November 2023. The decision notice and investigation report are available on the GLA’s website.

Matt Lewin is an experienced investigator of complaints against councillors and is regularly called on by monitoring officers across the country to advise on standards issues and investigate complaints.

He is the editor of the new edition of Cornerstone on Councillors’ Conduct and Standards in Public Life, which will be published on 21 December 2023 by Bloomsbury Professional.

Media reporting of this case can be found in the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail.