Labour has asked Rishi Sunak to explain why he used an RAF jet to fly to Scotland on Monday when scheduled flights were available, given the ministerial code says private planes should only be used when there is no alternative.
Sunak, a habitual user of helicopters and private jets even for other, relatively short UK journeys, travelled to Aberdeen on Monday morning in connection with an announcement on new North Sea drilling licences.
His RAF Dassault Falcon jet, from RAF Northolt airbase in west London, arrived at Aberdeen airport at 9.12am, Labour said, pointing out that two scheduled BA flights from Heathrow landed in Aberdeen at 9.03am and 9.40am.
The party said this could be contrary to the ministerial code, which sets out expected conduct for all ministers, including the PM.
A section of the code on travel states: “Non-scheduled flights may be authorised when a scheduled service is not available, or when it is essential to travel by air, but the requirements of official or parliamentary business or security considerations preclude the journey being made by a scheduled service.”
A No 10 source said that because of Sunak’s security status as prime minister, he has “bespoke” air travel arrangements, and that flying was the only time-efficient way to go to and from Aberdeen in a day.
In an exchange with BBC Radio Scotland shortly before he left London, Sunak confirmed he was travelling by plane, without giving any details.
“Every prime minister before me has also used planes to travel around the United Kingdom because it is an efficient use of time for the person running the country, so I can keep focusing on delivering for people,” he said.
Sunak – who is due to go on his first holiday in nearly four years later this week – went on to suggest that questioning his mode of travel effectively suggested that “no one should go on a holiday, no one should [go on] a plane, I think you are completely and utterly wrong – that is absolutely not the approach to tackling climate change”.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, said: “We could all hear from the prime minister’s tetchy and disdainful response to the BBC that he is tired of being questioned about his addiction to helicopters and private jets. But he cannot simply wave away the rules in his own ministerial code.
“Like every other member of the cabinet, when it is essential to travel by air he is supposed to use scheduled flights where possible because that is cheaper for the taxpayer and better for the environment. If those are still the rules, then he needs to explain why he has not followed them.”
In recent months, Sunak has used a helicopter for an official visit to Southampton, and flown to London from Dorset by helicopter before returning to the south-west of England by plane the next morning. He has previously used private helicopters to travel from London to his constituency, at a cost of about £16,000.