It might be forbidden to say so openly in the House of Commons, but most of Boris Johnson’s political opponents – and, probably, some of his supporters – would agree he has a reputation for telling lies. He has been accused of telling fibs big and small throughout his premiership on everything from Brexit to the Downing Street parties.
So how did he do this week? The Guardian has looked at his various statements and rated them for honesty.
Claim (in Daily Mail op-ed): “[W]e had the fastest vaccine rollout and the fastest booster rollout of any major European economy … And that was at least partly because of Brexit”
Facts: The UK was certainly among the quickest countries in starting vaccinations, but defining “fastest” depends where you draw the line, with several neighbours having since vaccinated more per head of population. The connection to Brexit has been debunked. EU countries could temporarily authorise vaccines unilaterally if needed – as the UK did in November 2020, when it was still under the Brexit transition agreement.
Verdict: Partly true-ish, partly lie.
Claim (in the Commons): Keir Starmer, when director of public prosecutions (DPP), “spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”
Facts: Starmer was DPP from 2008-13, a period when the broadcaster was interviewed by police and died without being charged for decades of sexual offences. He also apologised for prosecution failings. But he had no connection to decisions over the case, and the idea he did emerged later in conspiracy theories mainly shared among the far right.
Verdict: Lie – and eventually partially withdrawn by Johnson. But his longstanding policy chief, Munira Mirza, resigned after he failed to apologise.
She said: “There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion. This was not the normal cut-and-thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse.”
Claim (in the Commons): “The [Sue Gray] report does absolutely nothing to substantiate the tissue of nonsense that he [Starmer] has just spoken – absolutely nothing”
Facts: Another angry response to Starmer, this appeared to refer to the Labour leader’s claim that the interim Gray report showed “evidence of serious and flagrant breaches of lockdown”, or perhaps that there had been “absurd denials” about parties. While Johnson is correct that the police have not yet charged anyone, the fact the report showed 12 events had sufficient weight of evidence to merit an investigation does demonstrate Starmer’s claim also had weight.
Verdict: Overblown – and perhaps desperate.
Claim (in the Commons): The UK “has the fastest growth in the G7”
Facts: Johnson says this regularly, and it is, at best, disputed. The UK is top in terms of the latest year-on-year GDP G7 growth table, but was fifth in the two most recent quarterly figures, from the second and third quarters of 2021.
Claim (in the Commons): “What we are actually doing is cutting crime by 14%”
Facts: This claim is taken from crime statistics for England and Wales for the year to the end of June 2021. Crime did fall by 14% – but only if you exclude fraud and computer misuse. Overall crime rose by 12%. The fall in non-theft crime came largely from fewer thefts, which was in turn because of repeated lockdowns.
Verdict: Lie – and Johnson was later criticised for it by the UK Statistics Authority.
Claim (at prime minister’s questions): “It is a quite extraordinary thing that there are now record numbers of people in work – 420,000 more than there were before the pandemic began”
Facts: There are more payrolled employees than before Covid, but the total number of people in work, if you include the self-employed, is still slightly lower.
Claim (at prime minister’s questions): “Our Covid recovery plan is vital in helping people with the cost of living: lifting up universal credit payments by cutting the tax that people effectively pay”
Facts: This is a reference to October’s budget, which changed the so-called taper rate for universal credit, so that the amount of the benefit a worker will lose for every pound they earn above their allowance was reduced to 55p in the pound from 63p. This is, however, not a “tax”. At £2bn a year, it is also notably less than the £6bn for the £20-a-week UC uplift brought in during the pandemic, now scrapped.
Claim (in interview with Five News): “Let me make it absolutely clear, because people keep going on about this, and no one is commenting, least of all me, about the personal involvement of the leader of the opposition in the handling of that case”
Facts: This was in response to a question about Johnson’s comments on Starmer and Savile, and the subsequent resignation of Mirza. But, as we saw above, Johnson’s initial comment very much did seek to implicate the opposition leader.
Verdict: A lie about a lie.