The Top 10: Awkward Ministerial Statements Just Before U-Turns

‘When I said yes I meant no’ in 10 different ministerial ways

John Rentoul
Friday 19 November 2021 13:39
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<p>Kwasi Kwarteng explained why the government was quite right, just before it admitted it was quite wrong </p>

Kwasi Kwarteng explained why the government was quite right, just before it admitted it was quite wrong

Stewart Wood suggested this one when Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, went on Sky News to defend the government’s attempt to block Owen Paterson’s punishment for paid lobbying, three hours before it was abandoned.

1. John Major: “The soft option, the devaluer’s option, the inflationary option, that would in my opinion be a betrayal of Britain’s future.” Interview, 11 September 1992, five days before the pound left the European exchange rate mechanism. Nominated by Chris Hodder.

2. Tony Blair didn’t know, during Prime Minister’s Questions in 2000, that Alun Michael, first minister of Wales, had resigned but William Hague did, because fellow Tory John Whittingdale had been texted. Thanks to Alan Beattie and Tom Hamilton.

3. Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Iraqi foreign affairs minister, “Comical Ali”, who said at a press conference in Baghdad in 2003 there were no US tanks in the city, while gunfire and explosions could be heard in the background. From Conor Downey.

4. David Willetts, education minister, was on The Andrew Marr show in 2010 explaining why the government might cut free milk for primary schools, when No 10 told journalists that David Cameron “hates the idea”. Marr was told via his earpiece and put it to Willetts, who said: “Some options go ahead and others don’t. That’s how decisions are taken.” Thanks to Robert Hutton and Jason Groves.

5. Bill Shorten, a minister in Julia Gillard’s government in Australia in 2012, was interviewed on Sky News about what the prime minister had said. “I haven’t seen what she’s said, but let me say I support what it is she said.” He was asked what his view was. “My view is what the prime minister’s view is.” “But you don’t know what that is?” “I’m sure she’s right.” Nominated by Adam Behr.

6. Rory Stewart was defending the rise in national insurance contributions for the self-employed on BBC Daily Politics in 2017 when the Treasury announced that Philip Hammond, the chancellor, had dropped the idea. Nominated by Denis Doherty.

7. Gavin Williamson, education secretary, said on 15 August last year there would be “no U-turn, no change” on the grading system used for A-levels. Two days later, he agreed that grades would be reissued using unmoderated teacher predictions. Thanks to Steven Fogel.

8. Robert Jenrick, housing secretary, defended Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak avoiding isolation in July – “this is a pilot that is being used by around 20 organisations” – minutes before they announced that they would be isolating after all.

9. Priti Patel had expanded her brief as home secretary to take on the responsibilities of the security minister, the Home Office said, when asked in August why James Brokenshire hadn’t been replaced. Hours later, Damian Hinds was appointed security minister by Boris Johnson.

10. Kwasi Kwarteng was asked about the future of Kathryn Stone, the standards commissioner, on 4 November, the morning after the Commons voted to reconsider her ruling against Owen Paterson: “I think it’s difficult to see what the future of the commissioner is given that we’re reviewing the process but it’s up to the commissioner.” Hours later, the prime minister reversed his position and this week Kwarteng wrote to Stone to apologise for his comments.

Next week: Actors who changed careers as a result of playing a part, such as Virginia McKenna, who set up the Born Free Foundation after playing the part of Joy Adamson in Born Free.

Coming soon: Headlines in the form of questions to which the answer is yes, or Anti-QTWTAINs.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

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