First Minister of Wales sacks minister after phone message leak to media

The First Minister of Wales has sacked his minister for social partnership following the leak of a phone message to the media, which she insists she was not behind.

Vaughan Gething, who was confirmed as Wales’s new first minister in March, said he had “no alternative” but to ask Hannah Blythyn, MS for Delyn, to leave his government.

But Ms Blythyn insisted she was “clear and have been clear that I did not, nor have I ever leaked anything” and was “deeply shocked” at her dismissal.

The First Minister’s decision follows a report on the Nation.Cymru news website which featured a message posted to a ministerial group chat in August 2020 by Mr Gething, stating that he was “deleting the messages in this group”.

Mr Gething previously told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that lost WhatsApp messages were not deleted by him, but by the Welsh Parliament’s IT team during a security rebuild.

He told plenary last week that the leaked message was from a section of an iMessage group chat with other Labour ministers and related to internal discussions within the Senedd Labour group.

Mr Gething denied the message contradicted the evidence he had given to the inquiry, adding that the message did not relate to pandemic decision making but “comments that colleagues make to and about each other”.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Mr Gething said: “Having reviewed the evidence available to me regarding the recent disclosure of communication to the media, I have regrettably reached the conclusion I have no alternative but to ask Hannah Blythyn to leave the government.

“I’d like to record my gratitude for the work the member has done to date, including her leadership through the fire and rescue services review, outstanding work leading the LGBTQ+ Action Plan For Wales and invaluable work on the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Act.

“It is of vital importance we are able to maintain confidence amongst government colleagues so that we work as one to focus on improving the lives of the people in Wales.

“Given Hannah’s talents and experience, I have been clear there is a route back for her to take up a government position again in future.

“The government has offered ongoing support to the member.”

But Ms Blythyn said: “I am deeply shocked and saddened by what has happened today. I am clear and have been clear that I did not, nor have I ever leaked anything. Integrity is all in politics and I retain mine.

“For a kid from Connah’s Quay, it is an immense privilege to serve the community that shaped me, let alone to have served in my country’s government. I will say no more at present.”

In the leaked message, Mr Gething wrote on August 17 2020: “I’m deleting the messages in this group.

“They can be captured in an FOI (Freedom of Information request) and I think we are in the right place on the choice being made.”

During plenary, Mr Gething said he had set out in detail “honestly and fully” to the Covid inquiry how messages had been retained and stored.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd
Leader of the Welsh Conservative Party Andrew RT Davies described the situation as ‘almost unprecedented’ (Jacob King/PA)

He described the message as “an appeal for people to consider what they have to say” and how they talked about each other, rather than about information.

“I reject completely the suggestion that I have not been honest with the Covid-19 inquiry,” Mr Gething said.

“I have already asked the full unredacted screenshot is shared with the Covid-19 inquiry.

“If they want to question me about it, I will have no difficulty at all and appearing before them and having the conversation.”

A spokesman for the UK Covid-19 Inquiry previously confirmed it had been made aware of the message and was considering whether Mr Gething needed to provide further information.

Following Mr Gething’s announcement about Ms Blythyn, Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, described the situation as “almost unprecedented”.

Mr Davies said: “Just weeks into his time as First Minister, Vaughan Gething has had to sack somebody from his Cabinet, which is almost unprecedented in recent memory in Wales, for leaking to the media about him.

“Vaughan Gething needs to prove quickly that he is capable of governing Wales, because as it stands his government is being stretched to breaking point by internal divisions.

“Now Blythyn needs to be clear about where she obtained the messages she leaked from and, if she still has them, why she hasn’t handed them to the Covid inquiry.”

And Rhun ap Iorwerth, the leader of Plaid Cymru, called on Mr Gething to consider his position as first minister.

He said: “In his first two months since his election, Vaughan Gething has undermined the office of first minister and lost the trust of his party and the nation.

“Rather than seizing on the opportunity to put Wales on a fairer and more ambitious path, his tenure has been marred by controversy, a lack of transparency and serious questions about judgment.

“The sacking of one of his ministers, and the allegations and counter allegations which surround it, demonstrates again that the First Minister’s priority is self-preservation rather than the public interest.

“If anyone should be considering their position, it is the First Minister himself.”

Mr Gething has come under sustained pressure in recent weeks, with repeated calls for an investigation into donations he received while running to be Welsh Labour leader.

Earlier this month, he survived a Senedd vote calling for an independent inquiry into the £200,000 donation he took from a man convicted of environmental offences.

On Thursday, the BBC reported that more than £31,600 from Mr Gething’s leadership campaign would go to the Labour Party.

Heledd Fychan, of Plaid Cymru, described the donations issue as a “sorry episode” that had “marred” Mr Gething’s first few months in office.

She said: “Unless Vaughan Gething does the right thing today and commits to returning the donation in full, serious and justified questions about his judgment won’t go away any time soon.

“The UK Labour Party must also show some moral leadership and return the money.

“Failure to do so will mean that every general election candidate in Wales will be funded by questionable money and it also means that Keir Starmer’s big announcement today about Labour being the party of change will be nothing but hollow words.”

And Mr Davies of the Welsh Conservatives added: “These donations are now a question for the whole Labour Party. Labour campaigning may now be funded by cash from somebody convicted of environmental offences.

“Now we will learn if Labour have the courage of their convictions.”