Hannah Blythyn breaks silence

A minister sacked by Wales’ first minister amid claims she leaked information to the press has broken her silence, telling the Senedd her side of the story.

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Hannah Blythyn, the Labour MS who has represented Delyn since 2016, reiterated her vehement denial of the allegations made by Vaughan Gething.

She was accused of leaking messages between ministers which revealed the first minister deleted Covid-era texts to swerve freedom of information legislation.

Mr Gething has resisted opposition calls to publish the evidence behind his decision to dismiss the then-minister for social partnership.

Ms Blythyn has been on leave and her personal statement was the first time she has spoken in the chamber, or Siambr, since her sacking in May.

‘Never’

Describing it as a privilege to serve in government – “particularly under Mark Drakeford” – she said: “This is not a statement that is easy for me to make, nor one that I take lightly.

“Indeed, there were times in the not-too-distant past when I’m not sure I would or could stand and speak in this Siambr again.

“I do so today because I know my removal from government has been a focus of discussion in this place while I have not been here.

“I also feel a responsibility to those closest to me and my many constituents who have demonstrated great patience, understanding and confidence in me….

“I know I can look all my colleagues who sit on these benches in the eye and say I have never leaked or briefed the media about any of you.

‘Real concerns’

“In fact, I can say to everyone in this Siambr.

“Whilst I will not share the detail, I will wish to share that I have formally raised concerns about the process by which I was removed from government.”

Ms Blythyn said she was not being shown any alleged evidence before being sacked, made aware she was under investigation nor advised she had broken the ministerial code.

She told the Senedd: “I absolutely recognise and respect that it is within the gift of any first minister to appoint and remove members of their government.

“I understand the nature of politics, I completely accept that. I raise concerns not out of self-interest but because I fundamentally believe in devolution and public service.”

In closing, she said: “In spite of the challenges and difficulties – perhaps because of them – I feel a renewed sense of commitment to the politics of public service and a real determination to continue to contribute to devolved democracy, my community and our country.”

‘Dignity’

She added: “I have very real concerns that lessons have not been learned from the past.

“Proper process not only needs to be in place and followed to ensure the dignity and respect of individuals but also to uphold the integrity of the civil service and the office of first minister.

“I want to take a moment to reflect on something that is very personal and somewhat difficult for me but I feel it’s important to say for the sake of how we do politics.

“I know there has been speculation about my circumstances and whether I have been well enough to work.

“This has ranged from tantamount to misinformation and what can be put down to misunderstanding.”

‘Detrimental’

Ms Blythyn told the chamber the past few months have taken a toll on her mental health as she called for a kinder politics.

She said: “It should not be surprising that what happened has been hugely detrimental to me on a personal level and led to acute anxiety and stress.

“I have never been signed off work before …. there was a point when the thought of putting my camera on to vote and seeing you all literally took my breath away.

“I share this now not in search of sympathy, I don’t want people’s sympathy, but because my recent experience has brought home to me that while we all ‘talk the talk’ on mental health, there is still more to do to improve our understanding and the impact that it has on individuals and their ability to do things we would ordinarily take for granted.

“Sadly, I think sometimes we get so caught up in the politics that we don’t always think about the person.”

‘Integrity is all’

Immediately following her sacking, Ms Blythyn wrote on social media: “I am deeply shocked and saddened by what has happened.

“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.”

In a statement at the time, the first minister said: “It is of vital importance we are able to maintain confidence among government colleagues, so we work as one to focus on improving the lives of the people in Wales.”

Mr Gething kept the door open for his Labour colleague to return to government in future, praising her work on fire services and Wales’ LGBTQ+ action plan.

‘Misleading’

Martin Shipton, associate editor of Nation.Cymru, penned an article in early May, accusing the first minister of misleading the UK Covid inquiry by not admitting to deleting records.

 

In a ministerial group chat in August 2020, Mr Gething, the then-health minister, wrote in the leaked iMessage: “I’m deleting the messages in this group.

“They can be captured in an FoI [freedom of information] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made.

Ms Blythyn, a trade unionist from Connah’s Quay, supported Mr Gething’s opponent Jeremy Miles in the Labour leadership race after Mark Drakeford stood down.

The left-winger, who has been tipped as a potential future Welsh Labour leader, served as deputy minister for housing, local government and the environment under the former first minister.

 

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