Lies, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations from Boris Johnson to Rishi Sunak

‎In 2019, Jeremy Corbyn’s national security agenda was “abolishing our armed forces, scrapping the nuclear deterrent, withdrawing from Nato, voting against every single anti-terror law we tried, and befriending Hamas and Hezbollah.”

PM Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister’s Questions

Facts

During Prime Minister’s Questions in response to Keir Starmer, Rishi Sunak said “this [Keir Starmer] is the person who, in 2019, told the BBC—and I quote—’I do think Jeremy Corbyn would make a great Prime Minister’.

“Let us remember that national security agenda: abolishing our armed forces, scrapping the nuclear deterrent, withdrawing from Nato, voting against every single anti-terror law we tried, and befriending Hamas and Hezbollah. He [Starmer] may want to forget about it, but we will remind him of it every week, because it is the Conservative government who will keep this country safe.”

Each one of the claims made by Rishi Sunak about Labour’s national security agenda in 2019 was false. Labour’s 2019 manifesto proposed none of the items listed by Sunak.

As chief secretary of the Treasury, Rishi Sunak played a prominent role in the 2019 election and would therefore have been familiar with the contents of the Labour manifesto.

The following day Corbyn – Labour leader in the 2019 general election campaign- rose to his feet in the Commons asking that the Prime Minister correct the record. He pointed out first that Sunak had broken the Commons convention which demands that MPs should give advance notice if they plan to mention another MP on the floor of the chamber. More significantly, Corbyn noted that the previous day the Prime Minister had given what he called “a wholly inaccurate representation” of the 2019 Labour manifesto. 

Verdict

Rishi Sunak was misleading the House of Commons. He has not corrected his false statements, despite being explicitly asked to do so by Jeremy Corbyn, meaning that the Prime Minister is in breach of the Ministerial Code. 

When Sunak became Prime Minister he promised to “have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” in government. Sunak’s abuse of his high office to smear Corbyn once again suggests that he means to employ the same deceitful methods as his disgraced predecessor, Boris Johnson. That means that he will trample over Erskine May, the ministerial code and the Nolan Principles – the three pillars of the British constitution which guarantee public integrity. His failure to correct his false statements suggests that Sunak is set on preserving the culture of venality, lies and fabrication which defined the Boris Johnson and Liz Truss premierships.

We emailed Rishi Sunak’s office and Downing Street offering them the chance to respond. The email was received, but no reply. 

Additional Note – The Conduct of Keir StarmerWhen Sunak unloaded his barrage of fabrication and smear about Jeremy Corbyn and his election manifesto Starmer did not correct him. As one of Corbyn’s most senior lieutenants during that campaign, Starmer must have known every word of that manifesto. This means that when Sunak uttered his falsehoods, Starmer was in a position to point out that he was wrong. He could have quietly noted that there was no Labour plan to scrap the nuclear deterrent, abolish the armed forces, withdraw from Nato etc. He could have demanded an apology. Yet he chose not to stand up for his former political colleague. 

We assume this was a political decision. It’s easy to surmise what’s going on here. On the one hand, Sunak was trying to damage Starmer by association with the former Labour Leader. On the other hand, Starmer is so rattled by Sunak’s tactic that he won’t defend his former boss even when the Prime Minister gives a false account of the Labour manifesto on the floor of the Commons. This public discourse, based on fabrication and falsehood, brings discredit on both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. 

We can see the same conspiracy of deceit when it comes to Brexit. Neither Sunak nor Starmer want to discuss it. This means that meaningful debate about Britain’s current economic predicament, and our national future, has become impossible. Starmer has chosen not to define his leadership of the Labour Party in opposition to the Tories. On this occasion he was happy to define himself against his predecessor, Corbyn, even if that means entering into a tacit agreement with the man who ought in theory to be his real opponent – Rishi Sunak.

Role of Client JournalismThere is yet another  aspect of this unedifying story: press coverage of the fabrications told by Sunak (and Penny Mordaunt) about Corbyn on the floor of the Commons. There was a sneering piece in the Daily Telegraph mocking Corbyn for taking “umbrage at the PM mentioning him in the Commons”, and a piece in the Daily Express carrying the headline that Jeremy Corbyn had been “laughed down in Commons”. Even the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror said dismissively that Corbyn “went on a rant”.

The British press, as it did so often in the Johnson era, played along with the falsehoods and misrepresentations of a Conservative Prime Minister. 

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