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Tory leader loses complaint against independent website

Hs2The press watchdog has rejected a leading Tory politician’s complaint against a news website over its coverage of the HS2 cancellation announcement.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision last October to cancel the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the railway meant a £5bn funding loss for Wales which automatically benefits from English public spending under the so-called Barnett Formula.

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies complained to IPSO over a story on independent website Nation.Cymru headlined “£5bn rail funding loss for Wales ‘above my pay grade’, says Andrew RT Davies.”

It reported on a BBC Radio Wales interview which Mr Davies had carried out in which he was asked about the possible loss of funding.

Mr Davies claimed the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code, and was “significantly different” from what he said during the BBC Radio Wales interview.

However in its ruling, IPSO backed the website saying its report was neither misleading nor inaccurate.

In the interview, Mr Davies was asked: “You as Conservatives in the Senedd are already calling for Wales to get what people say is a fair share of spending on HS2 because its England project in terms of the track being laid but classified as England and Wales by the Treasury. So, no extra cash for Wales because of that. If that leg doesn’t go ahead, it makes that argument even stronger doesn’t it that Wales should be getting some money from HS2?”

Mr Davies replied: “Well we have made the case time and time again that Wales should get the consequentials from HS2. It’s above my pay grade whether the second leg of HS2 should go to Manchester.”

Mr Davies argued that the decision to go ahead, or scale back HS2, was the prerogative of the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and the wider UK Cabinet; and that it was this decision he described as being “above [his] pay grade”.

He also said the article was inaccurate to report he had retreated from the stance he adopted when delivering a speech at the Welsh Conservative conference in Newtown in May 2022 when he said his party was “making the case that Wales should receive its fair share of HS2 spending”.

In its ruling, the Code Committee said Mr Davies did not dispute that he said that whether the second leg of HS2 should go to Manchester was “above his pay grade” during the BBC Radio Wales interview.

The Committee noted that he had made the comment following a question from the interviewer in which the interviewer had made the point that the argument that Wales should be getting money from HS2 was made even stronger if the HS2 leg to Manchester did not go ahead.

In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider it was misleading for the publication to report that the complainant’s answer was also his response to the question about funding, which he had just been asked, and that he had said that the issue of Wales losing £5 billion in rail funding was above his pay grade.

The complaint was not upheld and the full ruling can be read here.