On the last day of parliament before the summer recess, Labour MP Dawn Butler was asked to leave the Commons chamber after refusing to retract remarks in which she called Boris Johnson a liar – an accusation that isn’t allowed under Commons rules.
“At the end of the day, the prime minister has lied to this house time and time again,” said Butler. “And it’s funny that we get in trouble in this place for calling out the lie, rather than the person lying.”
My colleague John Rentoul believes that it was little more than a publicity stunt on the last day before recess (and that calling someone a liar is not an argument). But I would contend that if you are facing a prime minister and a government that appear to treat parliamentary convention with disdain, then is it an unexpected development?
Butler was backed by Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, who tweeted: “Just to confirm @BorisJohnson is a liar regardless of who calls him a liar or where they call him a liar.”
In a video for Byline TV explaining her move, Butler said that “over the last 18 months ... we have seen an erosion of parliamentary democracy”, and that a stand needed to be made. It is difficult to argue with that point – and that is even without including the attempt at prorogation of parliament that was struck down by the Supreme Court.
Johnson was on the end of a rebuke from the Commons speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, last month after announcing the four-week extension to Covid-19 lockdown measures in a press conference before formally telling parliament. The ministerial code states that: “The most important announcements of government policy should be made, in the first instance, in parliament.” Hoyle has also made complaints about elements of policy coming out in the press before parliament is informed.
Former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd has also said that Johnson is shirking his responsibilities at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Boothroyd said that Hoyle “had to call the prime minister to account here to say, look, it’s contempt of parliament – you’re not answering the question, not even attempting to answer the question”.
In March, Hoyle branded Johnson “dishonourable” for failing to correct his mistake after he made a false claim at PMQs about opposition MPs voting against a pay rise for nurses.
It is not even the first time that Johnson has been criticised for his conduct in his statements to the Commons. Six opposition parties – in a letter organised by Green MP Caroline Lucas – urged Hoyle to allow a vote on an inquiry into Johnson’s “consistent failure to be honest”. Writing for The Independent, Lucas stated: “It matters because MPs cannot properly hold a government to account if they are consistently given false information that goes into the parliamentary record and is never corrected.”
The examples given in that letter include Johnson saying the economy had grown by 73 per cent under the Conservatives, when the figure covered the period since 1990 (including Labour’s term in office), and saying CO2 emissions had been cut by 42 per cent since 2010, when the real figure was by 38 per cent since 1990.
Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings also claimed the prime minister was a liar during testimony to a joint committee of MPs last month. Cummings said that Mr Johnson “lies – so blatantly, so naturally, so regularly – that there is no real distinction possible with him, as there is with normal people, between truth and lies”.
You may not agree with Butler’s methods, but is it any wonder she resorted to them – given the events that have taken place under the premiership of Boris Johnson?
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