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Rishi Sunak, who promised to lead a Government based on “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, is now trying to cling on to his job through pushing outright lies.
The latest example of this came on Thursday when the Prime Minister claimed that Keir Starmer had “pledged to open Britain’s borders to 100,000 more migrants… each and every year”.
This is entirely untrue. The 100,000 figure bears no relation to anything the Labour Leader has either said or done.
It is a lie, and it is a bigger lie even than the claim during the Brexit Referendum that remaining in the EU would cost the UK £350 million a week.
While that claim was based on a deliberately misleading conflation of net and gross contributions, it was at least centred around a measurable figure which could be analysed and debated. The 100,000 figure is not. It has been quite literally plucked out of thin air by Conservative Party headquarters.
The Government’s justification for its figure is that the Labour Party intends to negotiate a returns agreement with the EU, if it forms the next government.
Yet, under the terms of any such agreement, the UK would only be obliged to accept 30,000 relocations. To put that into context, Sunak’s own Government oversaw the arrival of 45,000 people on small boats last year.
Even the 30,000 figure would be up for negotiation on the basis of financial contributions by the UK, while any such deal would also only be agreed on the basis that the EU would also accept the return of failed asylum seekers from the UK.
None of this constitutes Starmer having “pledged” to accept 100,000 migrants a year, as now claimed by the Prime Minister.
More importantly, Rishi Sunak is also attacking Labour for backing something which he himself has been personally pushing for. Indeed, as recently as last month, the Telegraph reported that Sunak was “determined” to negotiate exactly this kind of returns agreement with the EU.
In other words, the Prime Minister is attacking the Labour Party for backing a policy, which he himself has personally been pushing for, while outright lying to the public about its implications. And he is doing so while using imagery which increases fear and hatred towards some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
The motivation for this approach is obvious.
During the EU Referendum campaign, Vote Leave pushed false claims about the UK’s EU membership in the knowledge that its opponents would be forced into spending time explaining while they were false, while at the same time repeating the claims.
Sunak’s false 100,000 claim so far does not appear to be having a similar effect. It has received little coverage outside of the Sun newspaper, which repeated it verbatim, with only the ultra-loyal Daily Express featuring it on its front page this morning.
Other recent false claims made by the Prime Minister also do not appear to be having the desired effect.
His claim at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions that the Labour Leader hadn’t mentioned crumbling schools in his education speech earlier this year, fell apart within minutes after footage and transcripts emerged of Starmer specifically mentioning the issue.
But, even when challenged on this, Number 10 continued to stand by the Orwellian claim that the Labour Leader had not said words that we could all clearly hear him saying with our own ears.
This contempt for objective truth is a worrying sign of what we should expect as we approach the next general election.
With polls suggesting Sunak’s own personal ratings are collapsing, while the Conservative Party remains, on average, 19 points behind the opposition, we should expect plenty more of this kind of dishonesty from the Prime Minister and his campaign team.
The very fact that we have got to this point is a confirmation of the failure of Sunak’s premiership. Less than a year ago, he entered Downing Street on an implicit promise to break from the systematic dishonesty of the Boris Johnson years. Back then, his aides briefed that he would restore the Government’s reputation for truth and integrity, while being “straightforward” with the British people about the challenges the country faced.
Now, he is engaging in even more dishonest politics than that previously pushed by his predecessor, in an apparently desperate attempt to prevent a landslide defeat. Far from being a sign of the Prime Minister’s campaigning strengths, Rishi Sunak’s latest lie is merely confirmation of his weakness.