Mon. Nov 28th, 2022
The carved disc of Enheduanna

(and is kicked out of parliament for speaking truth to power.)

There are two things that one may not do in the House of Commons: one may not, apparently, accuse another member of being inebriated, and one may not call another member a liar. Today a younger Black woman levelled the latter accusation at an older white man – the Prime Minster – and the walls shook. Because she said Johnson lies – and, let’s face it we all know he lies: this is the man for whom truth is what he can persuade other people to believe. Dawn Butler, MP for Brent, was told to leave the House for saying what everyone knows to be true, but cannot be said where most it needs to be said.

The exchange went as follows (transcribed from the verbal record of parliamentary TV):

Butler: “The Prime Minister said that we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death. Not only is this not true, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is dangerous, and it is dangerous to lie in a pandemic. And I’m disappointed that the Prime Minister has not come to the house to correct the record and to correct the fact that he has lied to this house and to the country over and over again.”

Deputy Speaker: “Order, order, I’m sure that the member will reflect on her words and perhaps correct the record.” (This is the usual job of the speaker, to ensure that procedure is followed and to give a member the opportunity to retract before disciplinary procedures.)

Butler: “Madam Deputy Speaker, what would you rather, a weakened leg or a severed leg? At the end of the day the Prime Minister has lied to this house time and time again, and it’s funny that we get in trouble in this place for calling out the lie rather than the person lying.”

Deputy Speaker: “Order, Order, Order, Order. Can you please, please reflect on your words and withdraw your remarks?”

Butler: “Madam Deputy Speaker, I have reflected on my words and somebody needs to tell the truth in this house that the Prime Minister has lied.”

The speaker then invoked the parliamentary process that enables her to eject Butler, and Butler left. She knew, however, that there would be a record of her words on the rolling feed from BBC parliament, and used this to publicise what she had done. Her stance has been met with an outpouring of support: why? Because we all know that Boris Johnson is a liar. He is the Prime Minister, the leader of the country and he is an unashamed, fluent, unhesitating, frequent and practised liar.

This is the man who said that there would be no barriers to trade in the middle of the Irish Sea and who promptly signed an agreement imposing those barriers. Today, he went cravenly cap in hand to Ursula von der Leyen, and in a thirty minute phone call which, she was at pains to point out in her press conference after the event, he had asked for, not she, begged her to renegotiate the Protocol. He begged her, because not three hours after Frost had presented to the EU his “Command Paper” requesting a renegotiation, the EU turned his proposals down, firmly, clearly, with the patience of an adult speaking to a pouting, protesting toddler, stating that any changes that needed to be made could be made within the Protocol itself, which Frost had negotiated, Johnson signed, and both of them praised.

This is the man who has presided over a pandemic disastrous even by developing world standards: no other country so high on the OECD list in terms of global development has had anything near such an appalling death toll. No other country of the UK’s (rapidly diminishing) global status has done so badly in terms of looking after its citizens. This is the man who doesn’t give a damn who dies so long as he and his friends profit.

This is the man, who, week after week in the House of Commons, the archetypal model of a functioning democracy, as well as out of it, has lied, obfuscated, evaded the truth and disgraced both himself and the office he so unworthily holds.

Let’s have a look at the lies and times of Boris Johnson, shall we? Peter Oborne’s website has a complete list, of which these are only a few.

We’ll start with the Northern Ireland one. Here it is:

In a leadership debate on ITV in November 2019, when Julie Etchingham, moderator of the TV debate, said Boris Johnson’s deal would create “a trade border down the Irish Sea,” he replied: “Not at all. Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK.”

While Johnson is correct to say Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK, there are now customs checks and controls for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is because under Johnson’s deal, Northern Ireland continues to follow many EU rules on food and manufactured goods, unlike the rest of the UK. Johnson’s own Brexit Secretary at the time, Stephen Barclay told the House of Lords in October that paperwork would be required for goods sent from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

The Johnson’s claim that there will be no trade border down the Irish Sea was a lie which he has repeated on numerous occasions. But that’s not the only one: there were plenty around the Brexit process.

In an interview on the Andrew Marr show  on December 1st 2019, Johnson claimed that “One of the reasons we’re having this election is because we have a Queen’s speech that was blocked by parliament”

In fact, Johnson’s Queen’s Speech, which set out his government’s priorities for the next parliamentary session, was approved by MPs on 24 October. 

The claim that parliament blocked Johnson’s Queen’s Speech was a lie.

What about this one, on Brexit? Speaking in the House of Commons on 28th October 2019, Johnson said that “They (dissenting MPs)  made it inevitable that the people of this country would be retained in the EU against their will for at least another three months, at a cost of another £1 billion a month”

This was not the first time Boris Johnson had claimed that remaining in the EU cost £1 billion a month. He previously made the claim at the Conservative Party conference and on the Today programme.

This was not true, as the fact-checking website Full Fact pointed out. An extension of a few months would cost nothing more than leaving with a deal on 31 October. The only way to get to the figure would be to compare it to leaving with no deal and not paying the divorce bill. But Johnson’s government has given no indication it wants to renegotiate the divorce bill.

Boris Johnson’s statement was a lie that he has repeated on multiple occasions.  Oborne states that he “wroteto the Downing Street press office asking whether Johnson planned to correct his false statement to the Commons as required by the ministerial code. I added that if he did not plan to, I would be interested in seeing what evidence he had to support his statement. A press officer failed to answer the questions but told me that they had been “forwarded to our special advisors.” She added that they “have advised that they will not be providing any comment at this time.”

Dawn Butler wasn’t wrong, was she? Not only does he lie but he lies in the House, and an arcane procedural rule (designed to preserve the delicate sensibilities of the Victorian gentlemen for whom politics was a game, and the lives of the citizens of this country of little worth) prevents him from being called out on it: he knows that, knows that he can lie with impunity, and does so. Johnson is still playing that game – as is Rees Mogg, whose logic-chopping, sidestepping, patronising performances in the Commons (as reported by Hansard) should be more widely read than they are as a salutary reminder of the contempt in which we, the ordinary people of this United Kingdom are held.

More lies?

“We’re not just upgrading 20 hospitals but we are building 40 new hospitals”: thus Johnson, in the leadership debate on ITV on the 19th November 2019. Was this true?

Johnson has repeatedly stated that the government will build 40 new hospitals. Numerous fact-checking organisations have demolished this claim. Under current plans, only six hospitals will be upgraded (not built from scratch) in the five years of a Tory government. As Full Fact noted: “the government has committed the money to upgrade six hospitals by 2025. Up to 38 other hospitals have received money to plan for building work between 2025 and 2030, but not to actually begin any work.”  

Boris Johnson would have been within his right to say that the government has set aside funds to plan for new hospitals after 2025 (and another election), but when he told the 6.7 million TV viewers that “we are building 40 new hospitals” he was telling a lie.

More on the NHS?

“We’re putting record sums in [to the NHS] — £34bn” said in the same leadership debate.

The figure of £34 billion refers to an increase in spending that was announced last year for the NHS in England between 2018/19 and 2023/24. However, as Full Fact noted, this figure doesn’t account for inflation. In real terms, an additional £20.5 billion will be put towards the NHS.

Boris Johnson failed to tell voters that in real terms his government plans to put £20.5 billion and not £34 billion into the NHS. This was yet another example of Boris Johnson misleading voters over the NHS.

What about a simple factual statement about rates of corporation tax, surely, not too controversial a subject? Also from the leadership debate:

“The UK’s corporation tax is “already the lowest in Europe”

The UK’s corporation tax rate of 19 percent is not the lowest in Europe. As Full Fact noted, Ireland’s rate is 12.5 percent, Lithuania’s rate is 15 percent and Hungary’s is 9 percent. Johnson’s claim was a lie.

We all know he says unconscionable things  –  “letterboxes” “watermelon smiles” among others I won’t repeat, but what about this claim?

“I didn’t say” police money was being “spaffed up the wall” on historic child sex abuse investigations”

At the Convention of the North press conference on September 13th 2019, Johnson was asked by a reporter from the Rotherham Advertiser whether he still thought the police was “spaffing up the wall” money on historic child sex abuse investigations. He replied: “I didn’t say that actually.”

He had, six months earlier, live on LBC radio. He said on 13 March: “I think an awful lot of money and an awful lot of police time now goes into these historic offences and all this malarkey. You know, £60million I saw was being spaffed up a wall on some investigation into historic child abuse.” Johnson had been criticised at the time for his choice of words. The word “spaff” can mean to waste money. But according to the online Urban Dictionary, it is also “a term for masturbation made popular by E4 comedy The Inbetweeners.”

Johnson’s denial that he had said police money was being “spaffed up the wall” was a lie. A straight lie.

Some of his lies are ludicrous, the next one especially. (Who does he think he is, the demigod of promiscuous copulation and unrestrained fecundity?) This is what he said in an interview with the Sunday Times on December the 8th, 2019, suggesting that romance would bloom across the nation after Brexit was done, and that there would be a simultaneous increase in the birth rate:

“There was a (baby boom) after the Olympics, as I prophesied in a speech in 2012. It was quite amazing. There was a big baby boom”

How sweet, if it were true. Alas it is not. In 2012, the year of the Olympics and Johnson’s speech, there were 730,000 births in England and Wales. In 2013, when the results of  what Oborne describes as “Olympic-inspired coition” appeared, there were only 699,000. The year-on-year fall of over 4 percent was actually the greatest in 38 years.

The prime minister’s claim is another example of his complete indifference to the truth: he never lets it get in the way of a good story or a smart soundbite.

Was Butler wrong? No, she was right. She was right to call out this man who lies and cheats, who steals from us, who has ripped away our security, our happiness, our relationship with our European cousins, to gratify his overweening ego and his venality and his greed, She was right to call him a liar in the place of democracy. It is the law which prevents her from calling out his lies that is wrong. If lies are spoken unrebuked and uncorrected in the Mother of all Parliaments, where democracy should flourish, then democracy dies with the lie.

Johnson must go. The Emperor has no clothes: let us not allow our elected representatives to pretend to us that he has, to dress him in the borrowed gloss of their sycophantic adulation, to allow him to preen his assumed feathers and not to call out the nakedness beneath.

The Emperor Has No Clothes. Boris Johnson Is A Liar. Dawn Butler spoke truth to power. Floreat Aurora: may a new dawn break, and shine light into dark places, lest democracy die with the lie.

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