Dawn Butler: Curbs on MPs calling each other liars in the Commons are ‘nonsense’

The Labour MP was ordered to leave the Commons in 2021 after refusing to withdraw her claim that Boris Johnson had lied

Ben Hatton
Monday 19 June 2023 21:27 BST
Labour MP Dawn Butler (PA)
Labour MP Dawn Butler (PA)

Curbs on MPs calling each other liars in the Commons are “nonsense” and need to be changed, according to the MP who was ordered to temporarily leave the House two years ago for saying Boris Johnson had lied.

Labour MP Dawn Butler said she hoped the Parliamentary record of her temporary expulsion could now be amended to show what she said was “actually correct”.

And she also suggested other ministers had lied to the House in recent years.

She was speaking in the Commons as MPs debated the Privileges Committee’s conclusions that the former prime minister misled the House.

Under normal circumstances, the Commons Speaker or Deputy Speaker will not tolerate MPs saying in the Commons that another MP has lied or is a liar, as it is not considered within the boundaries of parliamentary etiquette.

Ms Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central, told the Commons in July 2021 that Mr Johnson had “lied to the House and the country over and over again”.

Her remarks predated the so-called partygate revelations, and were made about Mr Johnson’s general handling of and rhetoric related to pandemic policies, including the claim that at that time the link between Covid-19 infection and serious disease and death had been severed.

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Ms Butler said: “Democracy demands honourable conduct. And we haven’t seen much of that over the last few years.

“And if we allow lies to go unchecked, and deceit to become the norm, then our democracy begins to crumble.

“And that’s what’s been happening. We sit here time and time again, we see ministers coming to the despatch box, and we’re all saying but that’s not true, that’s not true.”

She said the rules of the House mean MPs have to say the person has inadvertently misled the House, with the expectation that they will then come back to correct the record.

“They never come back. They tell a lie, they sit down, they have a goofy grin on their face, then they walk out and they never come back to correct the record. And that is a problem for our democracy. And this House must be able to call truth to power,” she said.

Ms Butler said MPs should “not be so obsessed with the archaic rules of this House” and “we must be honest with ourselves and say we’ve got to challenge the rules of this House if they are not working”.

She added: “We have got to challenge the system of this House if it’s not working. And I do think it’s a nonsense that you cannot call somebody a liar if they are lying.

“And people say ‘well then it’s just going to degrade the House and everyone is going to be calling each other a liar’. Well if you don’t want to be called a liar, don’t lie.”

She said it was “ironic” that she was “thrown out of Parliament” for calling Mr Johnson a liar, only for the Privileges Committee to find that Mr Johnson has misled the House.

She said: “Sometimes I wonder what is the purpose of Parliament if we can’t hold ministers to account. If we’re just going to allow them to lie.

“And Johnson knew he was lying, we all knew he was lying. And he knew we knew he was lying.

“But the system protected him. And what we have to do is change the system, so the system doesn’t protect the liar or the lies, the system protects Parliament and our democracy.”

She added: “As we get ever closer to a general election, ministers will try and whip up moral panic. And they will begin to spread further lies… we actually can’t wait for two years for a Privileges Committee to find them guilty of lying or misleading the House, because that would be too late.”

Ms Butler also said MPs should take responsibility away from the Prime Minister over whether the ministerial code has been broken.

She said: “We should take that responsibility away from the prime minister, and it should become the responsibility of the House when somebody breaks the ministerial code, because you cannot have, like we had, the prime minister deciding who is lying or not lying when he was the chief liar himself.”

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