Lies, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations from Boris Johnson to Rishi Sunak

‎”Australia is an important ally and this is a good agreement between us.”

George Eustice, Environment Secretary, House of Commons

Facts

Eustice defended the Australian to MPs, arguing that it was “a good agreement between us.”

Eustice, who is no longer a member of the cabinet, has since corrected this statement, revealing: “Since I now enjoy the freedom of the back benches, I no longer have to put such positive gloss on what was agreed. The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK. The truth of the matter is the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return”

The Financial Times, corroborated Eustice’s recent comments, reporting that whilst the UK loses 4 per cent of our GDP as a result of Brexit, we only gain 0.08 per cent, by the government’s own estimate, through this trade deal with Australia.

Verdict 

Eustice today accepts that he misled the House of Commons about the Australia deal. He also suggests that he did so knowingly: “Since I now enjoy the freedom of the back benches, I no longer have to put such positive gloss on what was agreed.” The Ministerial Code states that “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.” Since Eustice is no longer a minister, the question of his offering his resignation does not arise.

Eustice had admitted that he knowingly misled the Commons. He has not corrected the record. When we sent him this verdict to give him a chance to respond, his explanation was illuminating and thoughtful. See the Additional Note immediately below. 

Additional Note

In the light of Eustice’s remarks, we entered into this correspondence:

Dear George

I am writing you in connection with your recent remark in the House of Commons regarding the Australia free trade agreement. On the 14 November, you commented that, “the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return.”

 As you know, you previously told the House of Commons, on 17 June 2021, that, “Australia is an important ally and this is a good agreement between us.”

Will you be returning to Parliament to correct your earlier false statement? This is particularly important given that your claim that the government had struck a “good” agreement was a knowingly false statement. 

 You made this clear when you referred to the way you put a “positive gloss on what was agreed.” 

According to the Ministerial Code  “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.  Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”

You are no longer a minister so there is no question of you offering your resignation, but when will you be correcting the record?

 I will record your response on my website https://political-lies.co.uk, which is concerned with public integrity.

Kind RegardsPeter

Eustice responded as follows:

Dear Peter 

Thank you for your email.  My statement to the House on the 17th June 2021, while I was a cabinet minister, accurately reflected the collective view of the government at the time and it appears to remain the collective view of the government today.  

Sections 2.1 and 2.3 of the Ministerial code require that Ministers should be free to make their views known frankly and freely in private through Cabinet Sub Committees but must then adopt a united front in public once a decision has been reached.  Under our constitution, the collective decisions of Cabinet are binding on all Ministers and it was ever thus. It is a breach of the Ministerial code to disclose the personal opinions of individual Ministers.  Ministers are called to the Despatch Box to give an account of the collective opinion of government and I did so accurately and in good faith. 

In my case, I made many arguments forcefully in private relating to the trade deal with Australia, as was my duty as a Minister carrying the seals of state.  As I set out in my speech to Parliament on the 14th November, I secured some important concessions during that internal debate, and, having reached a settlement with Cabinet colleagues, I accepted the duty of collective responsibility while bound by it. At the time of the agreement, there was much speculation about divisions within government and on numerous occasions I pointed out that there had been a discussion in private which had led to a government consensus.

I am now a back-bench MP, and there is an important constitutional role for back bench MPs to use their freedom to scrutinise and inform debate.  Former Ministers with technical knowledge must perform their duty to hold the executive to account.   I made my intervention expressing my personal views on the 14th November to do just that.

Kind regardsGeorge Eustice

We thank Mr Eustice for responding promptly – and thoughtfully- to our question.

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