A Selection of Misleading Statements Made by Boris Johnson & Ministers on the Floor of the House of CommonsJuly 2019 – December 2020
A selected list of misleading statements that Peter Oborne has sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons
“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.”
25 July 2019“We kept [the murder rate in London] at fewer than 100 a year for four or five years running.” Boris Johnson, first statement to the Commons as Prime Minister
The Metropolitan Police collects data on the number of homicides (murder, manslaughter and infanticide) and not murder specifically. We assume that Johnson is referring to homicide statistics.
25 July 2019“We reduced knife crime in London with a very active policy of stop and search.”Boris Johnson, first statement to the Commons as Prime Minister
Johnson’s claim is contradicted by a Home Office impact assessment of Operation Blunt 2 – the crackdown on knife crime that began shortly after he became Mayor in 2008. While knife crime did come down during his time as Mayor, the assessment found that “there was no discernible crime-reducing effects from a large surge in stop and search activity at the borough level during the operation”.
22 October 2019“There will be no checks between NI and GB.” Boris Johnson, House of Commons
Only the previous day, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay had said that paperwork would be required for goods sent between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Government’s own impact assessment on the Brexit withdrawal agreement states: “Goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be required to complete both import declarations and Entry Summary (ENS) Declarations because the UK will be applying the EU’s UCC (Union Custom Code) in Northern Ireland.”
Furthermore, in 2021, the first goods crossed the new trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK on 1 January, with lorries being met by officials and directed to new border control posts. Many food products from Great Britain now have to enter Northern Ireland through these border posts where they can be inspected by the Department of Agriculture. These products also need health certificates, though some of the new certification processes will be phased in over the next three months.
23 October 2019“They said that we would never get it through Parliament, and they did their utmost to stop it going through Parliament, but we got it through Parliament last night.”Boris Johnson, Prime Minister’s Questions
During Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson claimed that he had got his Brexit withdrawal agreement through Parliament.
However, he was referring to the vote on its second reading. The Government then lost the vote on the timetable for passing the bill, which was subsequently pulled.
It is nonsensical to claim that passing one vote on a bill amounts to the bill passing through Parliament.
29 January 2020“The SNP has not had a debate in its Parliament on education for two years.” Boris Johnson, Prime Minister’s Questions
Since 29 January 2018, there have been six debates on motions about schools, two members’ business debates, and four statements by ministers followed by questions.
Topics covered have included subject choice, music tuition, reforms, Catholic schools and autistic children’s experiences of school.
The fact-checking organisation, Full Fact contacted Downing Street to ask for clarification, but did not receive a response.
29 January 2020“The economy, under this Conservative Government, has grown by 73%.” Boris Johnson, Prime Minister’s Questions
Under Conservative-led governments since 2010, the UK’s GDP has grown by around 20% (depending on exactly when in the year you start counting) – not 73% as Johnson said.
73% is how much the economy grew between 1990 and 2017, which comprised 13 years of Labour Government, more than 10 years of Conservative Government and five years of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government.
The fact-checking organisation Full Fact asked Number 10 to provide the data that could stand up Johnson’s claim, but received no response.
25 February 2020“Life expectancy is rising.” Matt Hancock, House of Commons
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which calculates life expectancy on behalf of the UK pension industry, cut forecasted life expectancy by five months in last year’s analysis.
Furthermore, for the first time since the 1980s, we are seeing a slowdown in health improvements including a flatlining in life expectancy, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Compared with 2015, projections for life expectancy are now down by 13 months for men and 14 months for women. ONS figures also show that, in comparison with the 2016- based projections, cohort life expectancy at birth is 2.6 years lower for males and 2.7 years lower for females in 2043 than previously projected.
Labour MP Debbie Abrahams called for Matt Hancock to correct the record in February 2020. He is yet to do so.
4 March 2020“We have restored Nurses’ Bursary.”Boris Johnson, Prime Minister’s Questions
This refers to legislation that was introduced in 1968 and provided a financial allowance to people who were studying for medical degrees.
While this Government will offer a new educational grant of £5,000 per year (increasing to £8,000 in some cases) for all nursing students on courses from September 2020, it is significantly less than the bursary system scrapped by the Conservative Party.
Under the system Johnson is referring to, which falls significantly short of what was previously offered, nursing students will still graduate with up to £60,000 worth of debt. Johnson’s claim that his Government has “restored” the bursary is misleading.
5 May 2020“I think that the Right Hon. and learned Gentleman was right last week when he paid tribute to the amazing work of the NHS, the logistics team and everybody involved in getting up from 2,000 tests a day in March to 120,000 by the end of April.”Boris Johnson, House of Commons
This echoed a claim made by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock at the daily Coronavirus press briefing, when he said that “the number of tests yesterday, on the last day of April, was 122,347”.
However, Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, suggested that these figures may be misleading because, instead of reflecting the actual numbers of tests carried out, they reflect how many tests were sent to people.
Professor Newton said: “For any tests which go outside of the control of the programme, they are counted as soon as they leave the programme. That’s for the tests that go out to people at home and in satellite centres.”
Of the 122,347 tests that the Government has said were completed on April 30, 27,497 were home tests and 12,872 were sent out to satellite sites. This suggests that just 81,978 of the tests were actually processed on this day.
The lack of clarity on tests was highlighted by the fact that the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, wrote to Hancock asking him to clarify whether his new target of 200,000 tests referred to testing capacity; tests that have been administered; test results received; or the number of people tested.
13 May 2020“It wasn’t true that the advice said that.” Boris Johnson, Prime Minister’s Questions
Boris Johnson was responding to the following statement made by Labour Leader Keir Starmer: “Earlier this year, and until 12 March, the Government’s own official advice was, and I’m quoting from it, ‘it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected’.”
Starmer was correct. Boris Johnson was misleading the Commons.
Government guidance published on 25 February twice stated that it was “very unlikely” that people receiving care in care homes or in the community would be infected with the new Coronavirus. This advice was withdrawn on 13 March and replaced with new guidance about what to do in the event of an outbreak at a care home or other supported living environment.
13 May 2020“We brought in the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown.”Boris Johnson, Prime Minister’s Questions
Boris Johnson claimed in the Commons that he brought in a lockdown on care homes before the rest of the country.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters later that day that he had been referring to Government advice to care homes, issued on 13 March. This advice, he said, was “recommending essential visits only, that obviously came before we took steps nationwide in relation to social distancing”. The Government issued a general lockdown order to the nation on 23 March.
However, there is no evidence that such a lockdown was ordered. Instead, the document from Public Health England advised care home providers to “review their visiting policy by asking no one to visit who has suspected COVID-19 or is generally unwell, and by emphasising good hand hygiene for visitors”. Balancing those restrictions, it said that care home policies “should also consider the wellbeing of residents, and the positive impact of seeing friends and family”.
Reuters, which spoke to three care home providers, said that there was “no evidence that any such early lockdown was ordered”.
20 May 2020“The reality is that already 125,000 care home staff have been tested, 118,000 – perhaps he didn’t know that Mr Speaker – 118,000 care home workers have been tested and we are absolutely confident that we will be able to increase our testing not just in care homes but across the whole of the community.”Boris Johnson, Prime Minister’s Questions
The Department of Health and Social Care clarified, when asked by fact-checking organisation FullFact, that these figures included staff in all care settings, not just care homes.
Furthermore, new transparency data, released on 16 July, included a section that specifically addressed the claims made by Johnson about the testing in care homes. This clearly showed that the figure of 125,000 (or, to be precise, 124,906) care workers relates to the number of tests done, rather than the number of people tested.
This is an important distinction because people often receive more than one test. Therefore, it is very likely that the actual number of people tested at this point was considerably lower than 125,000.
The Government’s own testing methodology notes: “For clinical reasons, some people are tested more than once. Therefore, the number of tests will be higher than the number of people tested.”
23 June 2020“No country currently has a functioning track and trace app.” Boris Johnson, House of Commons
19 October 2020 “There are many areas in which we can co-operate more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the European Union than we ever could inside. Through a variety of methods and arrangements open to us, open to Border Force and open to our security and intelligence services, we can intensify the security that we give to the British people.” Michael Gove, House of Commons
However, as a result of Brexit, the UK no longer benefits from the same real-time sensitive data-sharing agreements and it has automatically forfeited its membership of Europol, Eurojust and the European Arrest Warrant.
Although the Brexit deal allows co-operation on security and policing issues, Brussels said that the UK will no longer have “direct, real-time access” to sensitive information.
Crucially, the UK has lost access to the EU’s Schengen Information System II (SIS II) database of alerts about wanted or missing people and items such as stolen firearms and vehicles.
Michael Gove was not telling the full truth.
2 November 2020“In April, on schedule, we delivered the target of 100,000 tests a day.”Matt Hancock, House of Commons
This figure is misleading.
Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, confirmed that tests that are sent to people at home or to satellite centres are counted at the point that they are sent, rather than when the tests are completed.
He said: “For any tests which go outside of the control of the programme, they are counted as soon as they leave the programme. That’s for the tests that go out to people at home and in satellite centres.”
According to Full Fact, “of the 122,347 tests that the Government has said were completed on April 30, 27,497 are home tests and 12,872 were sent out to satellite sites. This suggests that just 81,978 of the tests were actually processed”.