Grant Shapps and Sadiq Khan clash in election row over Crossrail opening

City Hall sources insisted the date had been cleared with Mr Shapps’ own department a week ago, and that no concerns had been raised.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has been accused by the government of using the Crossrail opening date announcement to “garner votes” for Labour the day before the local elections.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps hit out at Mr Khan, accusing him of “breathtaking political cynicism”, and said he believed the timing of the announcement broke rules around elections.

Sign up to our LondonWorld Today newsletter

He vowed he would immediately refer the “breach” to a key election watchdog.

But City Hall sources hit back, insisting the date had been cleared with Mr Shapps’ own department a week ago, and that no concerns had been raised.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Photo: Getty

The ‘pre-election period’, formerly known as purdah, is a set of regulations ahead of ballots which limits what publicity councils and public bodies can issue that may influence voters.

Rules came into force in London on March 28, and state authorities must “not publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party”.

However, information which does not identify individual politicians may still be shared.

Mr Shapps said:  “This announcement is an act of breath-taking political cynicism by the mayor, breaking election rules on such announcements in an effort to garner votes the day before the local elections in London.

“I am therefore immediately referring this breach to the Electoral Commission for investigation.

“Londoners reading this unscrupulous headline grab might like to know that the Government has poured billions into Crossrail to solve delays clocked up on the mayor’s watch, while propping up a transport system hobbled financially by his chronic incompetence.”

He later tweeted an image of Crossrail above a “Conservatives” campaign logo and wrote: “London’s newest tube - the Elizabeth Line - will be opening to passengers on May 24.

“Thanks to £9bn of government support, it will transform the lives of Londoners for generations to come and deliver a £42 billion boost to the whole UK economy.”

A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan said: “The mayor is absolutely delighted that the Elizabeth Line will be opening to passengers on May 24, transforming transport in the capital and southeast, and boosting the whole UK economy by £42bn each year.

“The announcement date for the Elizabeth Line opening was made by TfL and the DfT were made aware well in advance.

“It’s a shame the transport secretary has decided to try and start a row rather than join the celebrations of the fact that this world-class new railway is about to open to millions of passengers.”

The announcement was made earlier this morning and quoted TfL boss, civil servant Andy Byford.

Mr Khan later issued a separate statement welcoming the announcement for Londoners.

(Photo by NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)

He told ITV: “TfL and the commissioner chose the date of the announcement for a simple reason.

“We’re starting a massive new line in just 20 days time. You want to get the rota sorted out, make sure the stations are ready, the staff.

“We’re not talking about three years’ time - we’re talking about 20 days’ time.”

He added: “We could have delayed it even longer. I don’t want that - Londoners don’t want that. Let’s get going.

“This is another example of the government not just being a sour puss but being anti-London.

“They should join the party and welcome this new fantastic line opening.

“Paris, New York, Chicago, Madrid - they’re all green with envy.”

Mr Khan is not standing for election, as mayoral ballots are next cast in 2024, but has been campaigning for Labour council candidates across the capital.

And City Hall sources added that the announcement timing was determined by TfL and not the mayor of London or the Greater London Authority (GLA).

Crossrail has been long-delayed and is understood to have cost around £18.9bn.