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Sadiq Khan cleared over office deal complaint

Sadiq Khan has been cleared over a complaint made against him about a deal struck by his office to promote an airline in exchange for business class seats to America.

The London mayor had been accused of a lack of integrity and openness in public office, due to the arrangements made with United Airlines for the five-day trade mission he made to the USA in May 2022.

The agreement signed by the mayor’s office – which also covered the air fares of ten members of Mr Khan’s staff and a number of journalists who reported on the trip – stated that United would receive several “promotional opportunities” in exchange.

These included “recognition” by Mr Khan “at external events across the three cities”, and it was agreed United would have the right to pre-approve all materials issued by City Hall which used the airline’s name or logo.

But it was revealed at Mayor’s Question Time (MQT) on Thursday that the complaint raised with City Hall’s monitoring officer was not being taken further.

Caroline Russell, a Green assembly member who filed the complaint, said that she had been told by the monitoring officer that “there is not a case to answer”.

She added however that a further aspect of the complaint – that the mayor had failed to correctly declare the benefits of the agreement – had been informally resolved. Mr Khan has now made a declaration of the agreement in his gifts and hospitality register.

Under the agreement, air fares for the group’s journeys to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and back to London were covered by United. Only additional fees and taxes were payable by the mayor’s team and journalists who benefitted from the agreement.

The mayor’s office had previously said that the deal was not a “formal partnership” and that Mr Khan “make no apologies” for “saving taxpayers money on the flights”.

But despite the monitoring officer’s response, the row over the issue deepened at Thursday’s MQT session.

Ms Russell said: “The months’ long delay in responding to our questions is worrying to me and frankly disrespectful to Londoners. So can you inform the Assembly of any other instances where a similar agreement with any other corporation has been made?”

Mr Khan said: “I’m not aware of any, but I’m more than happy for my chief of staff to respond accordingly.”

Ms Russell’s Green colleague, Zack Polanski, then asked the mayor what relationship he will have with United Airlines in future.

The Labour mayor replied: “I will carry on supporting trade with the United States of America.

“I’m really proud that no other global city has bounced back the way we have. We saw in the pandemic tourists not coming to London, we saw a reduction in foreign direct investment.

“I’m really proud that United, along with a number of other airlines have increased the number of flights between London and America.”

He later added: “There’s nothing in any agreement that dictates what I say or do, but I will speak proudly and proactively about American businesses or British businesses which do good by London.”

Mr Polanski accused the mayor of having read out loud a “United Airlines sustainable aviation fuel press release” some months previously.

The assembly member was referring to a June meeting in which he had asked questions of the mayor about United Airlines being the headline sponsor for Pride in London.

Mr Polanski said: “It seems a coincidence that just a year earlier, you’d had thousands of pounds worth of free flights, and then defended United Airlines not once, not twice but multiple times – can you see how that looks?”

The mayor said that while he was “very proud to promote businesses from any part of the world that promote jobs, wealth and prosperity in London,” he was also “willing to stand up to those businesses that are not good for London”.

He cited his refusal of permission for Madison Square Garden’s proposed Sphere music venue in Stratford as one recent example.