Lies, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations from Boris Johnson to Rishi Sunak

‎”Difficult though the backlog is, it is half the size that it was when Labour was in office”

PM Rishi Sunak, House of Commons

Facts

In a statement to the House of Commons, PM Rishi Sunak stated that the current asylum backlog was half the size of the backlog than when the Labour government was in office.

At the time that Rishi Sunak made this statement, the backlog of cases was at 166,000, implying that the backlog when Labour was in office would have been about 332,000.

Stephen Kinnock, Shadow Immigration Minister, then wrote to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) expressing concern about the statement made by the Prime Minister.

In reply the UKSA found that Sunak’s remarks “do not reflect the position shown by the Home Office’s statistics”. Sir Robert Chote, the UKSA chairman, said the asylum backlog in 2010 was 19,000, meaning the number of outstanding claims had in fact risen almost ninefold to 166,000.

In the wake of the UKSA’s letter, Stephen Kinnock, Shadow Immigration Minister, asked PM Rishi Sunak to correct the record – in line with the Ministerial Code. He did so by raising the issue in the House of Commons as a Point of Order.

Mr Kinnock said: “I am pleased to inform the House that the chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority responded to my request on Thursday. His letter to me is crystal clear. The asylum backlog when Labour left office in 2010 was not in the hundreds of thousands; it was 18,954. Under the Conservatives, it is now 166,261—more than eight times larger than it was in 2010. The UK Statistics Authority is using the Home Office’s own statistics, so it is somewhat odd that the Ministers did not know that they had been playing fast and loose with the facts.”

According to the Hansard record, the Deputy Speaker replied as follows:

“the ministerial code requires Ministers to correct any inadvertent errors in answers to parliamentary questions at the earliest opportunity. As it happens, Ministers from the Home Office are present and will have heard—[Interruption.] Excuse me. The Ministers will have heard what he had to say, and I am sure that if they feel there is anything that needs to be corrected, they will do that at the earliest opportunity.”

(We have studied the footage from parliamentlive.tv and although it’s impossible to be certain from the film, the two ministers present seem to have been Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.)

Stephen Kinnock then sent a letter to Prime Minister Sunak sharing the UKSA’s findings and requesting that he correct the record. 

PM Rishi Sunak is yet to correct the record. Stephen Kinnock has asked the Procedure Committee to investigate. Mr Kinnock’s office has confirmed to us that the Committee has not engaged with his request. 

We publish all letters in full below so readers can reach their own judgement about the integrity of Rishi Sunak’s reply. We publish Stephen Kinnock’s letter to the UKSA, the UKSA’s response to Kinnock, and Kinnock’s letter to Prime Minister Sunak asking him to correct the record. 

Verdict

The Prime Minister misled the House of Commons. The asylum backlog was not “half the size that it was when Labour was in office,” as he claimed. On the contrary, it was nine times larger!

Rishi Sunak’s failure to correct the record following his false statement to the Commons is especially disreputable because he has since  been formally alerted as to the real facts. He can’t say that he doesn’t know that he misled the Commons, because he has been informed by the UKSA and others. 

This means that Rishi Sunak has not simply failed to correct his false and misleading statement to the Commons. He has refused to correct the record.  He has not just inadvertently misled the Commons. He is being reckless with the facts.

 Sir Robert Chote, chairman of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority, carried out an inquiry and concluded that Rishi Sunak’s statement was false. His conclusion was then amplified in a point of order made by Stephen Kinnock, at which ministers were present. Mr Kinnock, a senior and respected Commons figure, then wrote formally to Rishi Sunak.

Bear in mind that, 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.” 

Nine months have now passed since Rishi Sunak made his false statement. The Prime Minister has been repeatedly warned that his assertion that the current asylum backlog was half the size of the backlog left by the departing Labour government in 2010 was wrong.. 

He is not simply in breach of his own Ministerial Code, which demands that ministers who give inaccurate information to Parliament should correct “any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.” Rishi Sunak is knowingly misleading the House of Commons.

Role of Procedure Committee

Over the summer the Procedure Committee carried out an enquiry into the process by which ministers correct the record in Parliament. The Committee found (para 37) that not much is seriously wrong with the existing system: “The procedural mechanisms of the House provide numerous avenues through which Members can challenge the accuracy of contributions….We believe that existing procedural mechanisms to challenge the accuracy of contributions made in the House are sufficient. We do not believe the introduction of new procedural mechanisms to be necessary and instead encourage Members to take advantage of existing mechanisms available to them.”

This conclusion makes no sense in light of the refusal by Ministers, including the Prime Minister, to correct false and misleading statements about the Asylum backlog – and other matters (misleading crime statistics, misleading NHS dentist statistics, misleading poverty statistics).

We emailed Rishi Sunak’s office and Number 10 offering him the chance to respond. The email was received, but no reply. 

Letter from Stephen Kinnock to the Statistics Authority (UKSA)

Response from the Statistics Authority (UKSA) to Stephen Kinnock

Stephen Kinnock’s letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

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