Boris Johnson: 10 false claims 7

Boris Johnson: 10 false claims

Boris Johnson has agreed to resign as prime minister after a cascade of resignations from his government. 

The pressure on Johnson became too much after details of allegations against Chris Pincher MP were revealed. The prime minister initially denied he was aware of claims against the MP when Pincher was made deputy chief whip, but it later emerged this was not correct. 

During Johnson’s time in office he regularly made false statements and promoted misleading claims. Ferret Fact Service takes a look at some of his falsehoods. 

“The economy, under this Conservative Government, has grown by 73 per cent”

The prime minister made this claim in January 2020. 

Measuring the economy is a complex task, but the most commonly cited metric for growth is gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of all the goods and services produced in a country.

The Conservatives have been in power at Westminster since 2010. Between then and 2019, the last year before Johnson made the statement, GDP had increased by about 20 per cent. To reach 73 per cent growth in 2019 we would have to measure from 1993.

“There will be no border down the Irish Sea – over my dead body”.

In August 2020 Johnson made the above claim when speaking about Brexit during a visit to Northern Ireland – reiterating his promise that there would be no trade barrier and that businesses would enjoy unfettered access to markets in Scotland, England and Wales.

However as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement the Northern Ireland Protocol was signed by Johnson and it came into force at the start of 2021. The protocol is now part of international law and means that instead of goods being checked at the Irish border, inspections take place at Northern Ireland’s ports.

This has been a source of tension within Northern Ireland as Unionist parties support being part of the UK, and argue that placing an effective border across the Irish Sea undermines Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

The protocol remains a source of tension between the UK and EU. In June the European Commission described a UK bill to scrap post-Brexit checks and controls in Northern Ireland as “illegal”. The UK wants to rewrite the protocol and delete core elements, but the EU is against the move, saying it would break international law. The situation is unresolved at time of writing.

There are “more people in work than before the pandemic”.

This was one of Johnson’s most enduring false claims. He made the claim at least nine times in parliament, and was written to by both the director general of the Office for Statistics Regulation and the chair of the UK Statistics Authority urging him to correct the record, which he did not. 

Ferret Fact Service checked this claim in April 2022, finding that the rate of employment from December 2019 to February 2020 was 76.6 per cent, while it was at 75.7 per cent between January and March 2022. 

In April 2022 there were an estimated 29.5 million people in employment, meaning 504,000 less people employed compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“We have been cutting crime by 14 per cent”

In January 2022 Johnson prompted criticism after making the above claim in the House of Commons while responding to Sue Gray’s report. Critics pointed out that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said the previous week there had been “a 14 per cent increase in total crime”.

In the year to September, compared with the year to September 2019, the ONS survey showed a 14 per cent increase in total crime. The figures were only down by 14 per cent if surging fraud and computer misuse are excluded from the total.

The UK Statistics Authority ruled the figures were presented in a misleading way.

“We have taken more vulnerable people fleeing theatres of conflict since 2015 than any other country in Europe.”

This claim has been made repeatedly by Boris Johnson and other government ministers.

He is referring to people coming to the UK through resettlement schemes. This is only one specific way that refugees can enter a country. 

Resettlement is where someone is granted asylum when abroad, and then transferred to the UK. 

The UK has a number of resettlement schemes in place which, according to EU statistics, took in 24,670 people between 2015 and 2019, which was the highest number across the European countries where statistics were collected. Home Office figures show another 823 settled in 2020, and another 1,587 in 2021.

However, most people who are granted protection by the UK don’t come through arranged resettlement schemes, instead they often claim asylum once in the country. 

In terms of overall asylum grants or ‘protection’, the UK lagged behind a number of European countries including Germany, France, Spain, Greece and Italy, even before the massive displacement caused by the conflict in Ukraine.

Keir Starmer failed “to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.

This claim was made in parliament by Johnson. He claimed that when Keir Starmer was director of public prosecutions (DPP) he failed to prosecute prolific sex offender and former TV presenter, Jimmy Savile. 

Savile was revealed to have been a serial abuser after his death in 2011. He was investigated by police in 2007, while Starmer was director of public prosecutions, which means he was head of the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales. 

However, the decision not to prosecute Savile was made because prosecutors and police felt accusers would not support legal action. A report commissioned by Starmer in 2012 into failings in attempts to prosecute Savile found no evidence that Starmer had been involved or even aware of the decision not to prosecute Savile while he was alive. 

Keir Starmer “voted 48 times to overturn the will of the British people and take us back into the European Union”.

This is another claim made repeatedly by Boris Johnson at the dispatch box in Westminster, including during his final PMQs appearance before resigning. 

The claim is not accurate, and seems to be based on an analysis of the number of votes Starmer has made relating to the European Union between 2017 and 2020. It has appeared in the media a number of times

While a proportion of those votes were about whether Brexit should actually take place, most of them were related to aspects of the Brexit deal and the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU, and similar related legislation. 

Staying in the European Medicines Agency “would have made [the Covid-19 vaccine] roll-out impossible”

The UK was the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine, and had the fastest initial vaccine roll out. 

During PMQs in February 2021, Johnson claimed this would have been impossible if the UK had not left the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after exiting the EU. 

The authorization of the vaccine came from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). When the UK was in the EU, it worked alongside the EMA to decide which drugs were safe and approved for use in the UK. 

The EMA had jurisdiction over drugs including vaccines, but rules negotiated with the EU meant that even if the UK was still a member, a Covid-19 vaccine would be able to be approved by the UK regulator alone. This was confirmed by the head of MHRA. 

Partygate Denials

Johnson was fined in April this year for breaking lockdown rules to attend his own birthday party in Downing Street’s cabinet room, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in June 2020.

At that time, rules set by Johnson’s government meant that people around the UK were not allowed to meet indoors. 

Prior to the fine, he repeatedly stated that the rules had been followed “at all times” in Downing Street during the pandemic. After it was issued, Johnson claimed that it ‘did not occur to him’ at the time that the birthday party was against Covid rules. 

Pincher allegations

Chris Pincher last week resigned from his role as the government’s deputy chief whip and was suspended from the Conservative Party following fresh allegations of sexual misconduct against him. 

The Tamworth MP allegedly groped two men in a London private members’ club on 29 June. He admitted in his resignation letter on 30 June that he had “drunk far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people”.

Pincher had previously been accused of sexual assault in 2017. He was appointed deputy chief whip by Boris Johnson in February 2022. 

Number 10 initially said that the Prime Minister was unaware of any “specific allegations” of sexual misconduct by Pincher at the time of this appointment. 

However, it has since emerged that Johnson was told about an official complaint about Pincher’s conduct in 2019, when he was the Foreign Secretary. Johnson has now admitted he knew about the allegation and made a “mistake” in appointing Pincher to the role. 

Correction: The above copy has been changed on June 8th to read “…rate of employment from December 2019 to February 2020 was 76.6 per cent…”, as opposed to “unemployment” as previously and inaccurately stated.

Correction: This article was updated at 11.35am on 9 July to amend copy and state that Pincher’s position was deputy chief whip.

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