Lies, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations from Boris Johnson to Rishi Sunak

Mission Statement

ALMOST immediately after Boris Johnson entered Downing Street in July 2019 it became plain that he was abusing his office to lie and fabricate on a scale far greater than any previous British Prime Minister. It was also evident that most newspapers and broadcasters had no appetite to challenge Johnson’s lies and falsehoods. At best they allowed them to pass unchallenged. At worst they were complicit in spreading them.

For this reason I started an early version of this website to record the lies, falsehoods and misleading statements uttered by Boris Johnson, his ministers, officials and certain Tory MPs. Since it was hugely time consuming and the expense was onerous I stopped work on it after the general election in December 2019.

Since then Mr Johnson has continued to utter his lies and fabrications, while media complicity continues. Early this summer I used crowdfunding to make an appeal to raise enough money to return to the unedifying subject of the Prime Minister’s habitual and systematic deceit. Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of donors, I am today able to relaunch an expanded and more comprehensive website. 

I have identified, sifted and analysed several hundred false or misleading statements from Mr Johnson and his ministers. There are so many I will not be publishing them all at once. I aim to put out around fifty every week, in chronological order, until the list is up to date.

However, documenting Boris Johnson’s lies and false statements is like painting the Forth Bridge. The task can never be completed because he and his ministers are constantly producing more examples. 

Why Lying Matters

Many believe that it is in the nature of politicians to dissimulate and lie. They say that it is as futile to complain about this as to complain that wasps sting.

But many politicians possess integrity. If you shrug your shoulders and say they are all liars, then you are giving a free pass to the liars and cheats. 

Most of all Boris Johnson, who is uniquely deceitful among British Prime Ministers. I make this statement with authority having been a political correspondent for approaching 30 years.

For many years I have kept a dossier of political lies by British governments. This dossier shows that the scale of political lying since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister has risen exponentially.

Indeed that’s why I decided to compile and publish this website of the lies, falsehoods, and misleading statements made by Mr Johnson and his colleagues.

We knew the Prime Minister had a long record of mendacity and deceit when he entered Downing Street. As a young journalist, he was sacked from The Times (which later endorsed both his Tory leadership campaign and his 2019 general election campaign) for fabricating a quotation.

Since entering Downing Street, Mr Johnson — as this dossier proves — has told fibs about almost everything. Some are relatively unimportant, but minor deceit displays an attitude that the truth simply does not matter. 

Remember: political lying has consequences. Governments which get away with lies get away with the misgovernment the lies protect. They never take responsibility for error and failure. Billions of pounds are siphoned by cronies or simply wasted.

Service people give their lives in wrongful wars and there are thousands of premature avoidable deaths, not only in pandemics, but in the normal course of bad government decisions on healthcare. 

People lose trust in their governments and ignore them even when they are telling the truth. They therefore persist in behaviours which are harmful to them, their families, their community, their country and their planet.

For these reasons all lies by governments are significant, even those which seem trivial. Together they build a fog which blots out the boundary between truth and falsehood and hides the faces of those who do dark deeds in the state.

What is a Lie?

It is a delicate matter calling anyone a liar, let alone a Minister of the Crown – someone claiming its lingering moral authority and supported by servants of the Crown with a reputation for honesty and impartiality.

It is delicate because there is a hierarchy of lying.

At the summit – or more, accurately, the nadir – are outright falsehoods, published or uttered with intent to deceive.

There is a much wider category which is best described in a legal phrase – statements which are “reckless as to the truth”, assertions without evidence presented as fact. They might be true, they might not be: those who make them do not care.

Some of Boris Johnson’s output falls into this category.  He makes wildly optimistic statements about future objectives which will never be met. They are often remarkably specific statements: for example, the garden bridge over the river Thames or the dishonest election campaign pledge, repeated many times since, to build 40 new hospitals. 

When the Prime Minister first made this claim it is just about credible that he genuinely believed it. But he went on making it long after it had been debunked by fact-checkers and exposed as a fabrication.

Another example is the Tory manifesto promise – presented on the eve of the last election as a personal guarantee from Boris Johnson to the British people – not to raise national insurance.

Then there are statements which are virtually pure rhetoric or propaganda, which barely have any meaning but are intended to influence the mood of the listener or reader. 

A common example is the description of some category of public service or its providers as “world-class” or “world-beating.” Such statements can cross the frontier of falsehood when no reasonable listener or reader in possession of relevant facts would agree with them.  

Lies are compounded and deepened when they are repeated or simply left on the record. A statement moves up (or down) from propaganda to outright falsehood when a politician expects people to go on believing it.

Within the term lying I include any statement deliberately intended to make its audience believe something which is less than the whole truth. It may be a statement known to be false at the time it was made. But it may also include statements which rely on partial or selective facts and those based on false inferences and interpretations.

Politicians — like people in any other walk of life — may make false statements in good faith. But it is then their duty to correct or retract a false statement the moment they know it to be inaccurate. If they continue to rely on it they turn it into a lie.

Lying to Parliament

Such false statements are especially damaging  when they are made in Parliament. That is because governments act only with the consent of Parliament.

Any government undermines and may ultimately destroy its right to be obeyed if it obtains this consent by false statements. (Bear in mind that in other walks of life people regularly go to prison for such behaviour.)

It follows that when a British minister appears in front of either House, especially the elected one, voters are entitled to assume that he or she is speaking the truth. 

This is established in unequivocal terms in the Code of Conduct for Ministers, which 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.”

This rule has worked in the past. It cannot work with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. This website documents numerous false and misleading statements made by Johnson to parliament which remain uncorrected on the Parliamentary record.

Mr Johnson is the ultimate arbiter of the Code of Conduct for Ministers. He has yet to enforce it. Only he has the authority to order himself to correct the record. This he is very unlikely to do. (Were he to refuse to do so Johnson would have to offer his resignation to himself, something that is even more unlikely to happen.)

Mr Speaker

This brings us onto Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons. As this website demonstrates, the arrival of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in July 2019 coincided with an exponential surge in deceitful, false and misleading statements from ministers on the floor of the House of Commons. Speaker Hoyle has come under criticism for his failure to confront the problem.

I wrote to the Speaker. His spokesman wrote back: “it is long established that the Speaker is not – and cannot be – responsible for the content of ministerial answers. It is not the role of the Speaker to determine the accuracy of a response.”

To emphasise the point he directed me to Erskine May paragraph 22.7, which states: “The Speaker’s responsibility for questions is limited to their compliance with the rules of the House. Responsibility in other respects rests with the Member who proposes to ask the question, and responsibility for answers rests with Ministers.”

It is therefore beyond the powers of the Speaker to police the accuracy of statements made by the Prime Minister to the Commons. MPs cannot do so either because it is against Commons rules for MPs to accuse each other of lying. Speaker Hoyle reaffirmed this long-standing doctrine on March 17th this year when he stated that “no honourable member on any either side would actually mislead or lie to the House.”  

Speaker Hoyle is an honest man. But he is himself open to the charge of misleading the Commons when he made this assertion. His statement that “No honourable member on any side would actually mislead or lie to the House” was either demonstrably wrong in the face of the contrary evidence or else a tautology, since all MPs are referred to as “honourable.” 

Hoyle’s remark suggests how Boris Johnson’s habitual and systemic dishonesty places all round him – even a man as decent and straightforward as Speaker Hoyle – in a position where they are obliged to lie or make false and misleading statements. 

I suggested as much to the Speaker’s Office. The spokesman replied: “Mr Speaker was enforcing that long-established practice, which reflects the presumption that Members are honourable, and so your claims that he misled/lied to the House are inaccurate and unfair, imputing intentions to him which are completely unsupported by the facts.”

To sum up. It is against Commons rules to challenge the lies told by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other ministers. By contrast the Prime Minister can lie to MPs with impunity.

Hence the unhappy episode involving Labour MP Dawn Butler during the final debate in the House of Commons before the 2021 summer’s recess. Ms Butler criticised the Prime Minister for “misleading this House” during the Covid pandemic. She cited Boris Johnson’s past statements on economic growth, nurses’ bursaries and investment in the NHS as proof of his dishonesty. All of the charges of dishonesty she made can be established by independent fact-checking, and are vindicated on this website.

Yet Acting Deputy Speaker Judith Cummins had no choice under Parliamentary rules but to interrupt Dawn Butler and asked her to “reflect on her words and perhaps correct the record”. When Dawn Butler refused to do this, Cummins ordered her to withdraw from the Commons for the rest of the day’s sitting. No such punishment has ever been meted out to the Prime Minister, even though he habitually lies, and Dawn Butler was telling the truth.

Dawn Butler has since put down an Early Day Motion calling for a Parliamentary debate, stating that “the Prime Minister should no longer be the guardian of the code as he has been shown to lack the moral aptitude needed”. At the time of writing more than a hundred MP’s have signed the motion, none from the governing Conservative party and not including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. 

Sir Keir was also absent in April this year when six opposition parties wrote a letter asking  the Speaker to allow them to table a Commons motion highlighting ministerial dishonesty. They urged that Boris Johnson’s conduct should be referred to the Committee of Privileges on the grounds that misleading MP’s amounts to contempt of parliament according to the commons rule book.

The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas organised the letter, which was signed by five other Parliamentary leaders; Ian Blackford of the Scottish National party, Sir Ed Davey of the Liberal Democrats, Liz Saville Roberts of Plaid Cymru, Colum Eastwood of SDLP and Stephen Farry of the Alliance. Sir Keir Starmer was invited to sign the letter – and offered the chance to lead it- but he refused. 

In the face of this apathy from the Labour leadership and the Conservative Party, Ronald Tocknell has petitioned parliament to make lying to MPs a criminal offense: “The Government should introduce legislation to make lying in the House of Commons a criminal offence. This would mean that all MPs, including Ministers, would face a serious penalty for knowingly making false statements in the House of Commons, as is the case in a court of law.”

The government responded once Mr Tocknell’s petition secured 10,000 signatures, stating that  it “does not intend to introduce legislation of this nature. MPs must abide by the Code of Conduct and conduct in the Chamber is a matter for the Speaker.”

By the time the Petition closed in mid October Mr Tocknell’s petition had secured 133,200 signatures, meaning that it should be scheduled for debate. At the time of writing this had not happened. 

Holding the Prime Minister to Account

So MPs are explicitly forbidden from challenging the lies told by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others. The Leader of the Opposition is not interested. The Speaker is powerless. A public petition has (so far) been ignored. This raises an important question: who CAN hold lying ministers to account?

Theoretically part of the answer is the press and broadcasting media. In practice (like Parliament) the British mainstream media have been careful to play down – and often entirely ignore – Johnson’s lies and misleading statements. Some journalists have gone a step further, and actively collaborated with Downing Street in order to distribute false information helpful to Johnson’s cause.

This means that (like Parliament) British newspapers have played an important role in the production and dissemination of the lies and false statements produced by Johnson and his ministers. It is not only the press which does this. The supposedly impartial BBC has repeatedly failed to hold the Prime Minister to account. 

In this website I include examples where journalists tamely allow the Prime Minister to get away with telling his lies and falsehoods, thereby failing to hold him to account. I also give credit where due to journalists who ask the right questions, or expose lies and falsehoods uttered by the British Prime Minister.

Cabinet Secretary

There is a tendency to ascribe responsibility for such false statements to ministers and their personal appointees, especially those who brief or leak to the media, and to a circle of client journalists willing to report and disseminate what they are told. 

But many of those statements cannot be sustained without the support of the minister’s department: indeed of the entire government machine, from the clerks who type them and process them to the senior staff who must sustain and defend them as part of the corpus of public policy. A particular responsibility will fall on ministers’ private offices and Departmental Parliamentary and communications staff, but they are not alone. 

Every civil servant who repeats a false statement to the public, or another department, or a foreign state or international body, or simply allows another party to go on believing it prolongs its life and makes it more difficult to correct. This is why I have chosen to highlight a number of false statements issued by government officials.

My collaborator Richard Heller, a former civil servant and political journalist himself, has written to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (Britain’s most senior civil servant) with the following questions:

 “My first question is: what resources are available to civil servants who do not want to be part of this process? Is there any means for them to refuse to repeat or otherwise make use of a government statement they know or believe to be misleading?

“My second question is whether any record is kept of the use or attempted use of such means by civil servants and if so, whether it is publicly available?

“My third question is whether any record is kept of disciplinary action against civil servants who act to correct a false government statement on their own initiative, as it might be by leaking to a sympathetic Parliamentarian or journalist?”

Richard Heller also asked Simon Case: “Is any record kept of civil servants who resign or request a transfer on ethical grounds? “

Thus far he has received no answer from the Cabinet Secretary.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, after an overlong period of silence, recently issued it’s long-awaited report on upholding standards. Though comprehensive in some areas, it had little to say about standards of honesty. In response the fact-checking website Full Fact complained:

“In failing to address dishonesty in politics in its report, we appear to be left with the committee for only six out of seven standards in public life. The Committee on Standards in Public Life must now conduct an inquiry specifically into the issue of honesty. The Committee’s own research has yet again shown high levels of public concern that the principle of honesty is not being lived up to, and this is why people are so frustrated with Westminster politics. Ignoring this concern will only fuel a corrosive blind cynicism about our politics that undermines even work that deserves the public’s trust. We do welcome some of the Committee’s recommendations including independence for regulation of the Ministerial Code. But democracy is about living in a shared reality and honesty is the glue that holds democracy together. Standards in public life cannot be upheld unless the committee starts to take seriously public concern about honesty.”

It’s hard to disagree with this assessment.

Independent Fact Checking

The absence of parliamentary, press, regulatory invigilation, or even any challenge to government deceit from the Labour leadership leaves a vacuum. It has been filled in part by independent fact checkers. I have relied heavily on the scrupulous work carried out by Full Fact, I have also frequently examined the excellent analysis  by the BBC’s Reality Check and Channel 4’s FactCheck.

Peter Stefanovic has kept a remarkable record of Mr Johnson’s false statements, noting many lies and misleading statements which would otherwise have disappeared from the public record. Mr Stefanovic  has published a video highlighting some of the most serious falsehoods uttered by the British Prime Minister. This video has been viewed (at the time of writing) 40 million times.  Repeat- 40 million times.

It has been all but ignored by the BBC, other broadcasters, and the mainstream press. This is perhaps the most breathtaking single illustration of the complicity of both the written press and broadcasters in Boris Johnson’s lies and fabrications.

Heartfelt Thanks to Donors

In June this year I appealed for funds to record, sift and analyse the numerous lies, falsehoods and misleading statements of Boris Johnson and his colleagues. I am intensely grateful for the support of hundreds of people who have generously and selflessly subscribed funds which have allowed me to build this website.

I have used the money to hire a dedicated team who have researched and fact-checked Mr Johnson’s statements as best as possible. This website is therefore only possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people who are affronted by a pattern of deceit which the mainstream media, MPs and Parliament have either ignored, taken for granted or actively encouraged since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019.

It is the result of almost six months of work. It has been an exhausting – and heartbreaking – task, and it’s not yet finished. While my team’s efforts have been beyond praise, I take full personal responsibility for all errors, mistakes and wrong judgments. 

The early content on this website was originally published in the run up to the general election in 2019. While much of it remains highly relevant, we have generally resisted the temptation to go back to entries made at the time and add retrospective commentary.  We have also added a handful of new falsehoods which we failed to spot at the time. 

The format of each entry is as follows:

  • Date
  • The lie/false statement in question (written in bold)
  • The source + link
  • Facts: the information needed to assess the statement and place it in context
  • Verdict: assesses its status in the hierarchy of truth and falsehood

Our search feature found at the top of the homepage allows readers to search the entire list of entries with ease.

Peter Oborne, 23rd November 2021

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