Vaughan Gething stands by decision to sack minister Hannah Blythyn

  • ITV Wales' Political Editor Adrian Masters reports.

First Minister Vaughan Gething has insisted that leaked messages to the media were from sacked government minister Hannah Blythyn's phone.

Mr Gething was forced to defend his actions when the Conservatives were granted a topical question by the Llywydd.

In response to the question from opposition leader Andrew RT Davies regarding Ms Blythyn's dismissal, Mr Gething said he stands by his decision to sack the former minister for Social Partnership.

Speaking in the Senedd on Wednesday, 10 July, Mr Gething reinforced the importance of trust within a government, saying "private discussions" should "remain private".

He said leaking messages to a journalist was "a breach of that trust."

It comes after Labour MS Hannah Blythyn spoke in front of colleagues in the Senedd chamber on Tuesday (9 July) and criticised the way she was sacked as a minister from Vaughan Gething's government.

She claimed she was shown no evidence for her removal and the situation caused her "acute anxiety and stress" and she said she has since raised “formal concerns”.

Ms Blythyn spoke in the chamber for the first time since being removed from her position on Tuesday (9 July).

Speaking in the chamber, the First Minister insisted the evidence gathered was sufficient. He said: “Having cross-checked the photograph with a full set of messages, it became clear that the photograph could only have been of one member’s phone.”

Mr Gething added that he would “rather not go through this detail in public”.

Ms Blythyn, who sat behind Mr Gething, shook her head as Mr Gething spoke and mouthed 'No' at fellow Senedd members.

Mr Gething said he previously told his cabinet that if the person responsible for the photo was identified, they could not stay in government.

Once it became clear the leak could only have come from "one person", the First Minister said he had to take action.

"Once I was in possession of evidence that amounts to a breach of the ministerial code I had to take the difficult decision whether the member could stay in the government. That decision is mine and mine alone as First Minister".

Mr Gething said he made clear in cabinet and in a Labour meeting that if he could identify who was responsible for the photograph they would not stay in cabinet.

He reiterated that he could not allow Ms Blythyn to remain in the government, and when referring to his decision, said: "I believed then and believe now it was the right one".

Members of opposition parties challenged the First Minister's statement with leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd Andrew RT Davies calling the incident an "unfortunate episode".

He also expressed that the chamber "deserves the respect" to see the evidence Mr Gething based his decision on.

Speaking at the chamber yesterday (9 July), Ms Blythyn claimed she had not been shown any evidence before her dismissal.

Mr Gething said he intended to go through the evidence he had in a planned face to face meeting but "that was not possible".

"The evidence was and is straight forward. An offer has been made again to provide it to the member."

He added: "A redacted version is already in the public domain, I don't intend to publish any more information".

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth also addressed the Senedd saying he understands how the First Minister decided to dismiss Ms Blythyn but remains "unconvinced" the evidence he had was strong enough to sack his minister.

He continued: "We essentially have two fundamentally different versions of the same event."

He added: "I'm not in a position to be able to take sides but we need to be clear we have all the evidence in the public domain to allow the Welsh public to come to a decision of their own".

The controversy is set to return to the Senedd next week. The conservatives have tabled a motion demanding the First Minister publishes the evidence and there is a strong chance that the motion could pass if Ms Blythyn abstains.

Although not binding to the First Minister, it would increase the political pressure he faces.

The First Minister’s decision to sack Ms Blythyn followed 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”.

He said 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 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 has previously denied the leaked message contradicted the evidence he had given to the inquiry, adding that it did not relate to pandemic decision-making but “comments that colleagues make to and about each other”.

At the time of her dismissal, Ms Blythyn strongly denied leaking anything and said she was “deeply shocked” at her dismissal and said: "I am clear and have been clear that I did not, nor have I ever leaked anything”.

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