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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Debunking Boris

The claim by Boris Johnson earlier this week, that Brexit can deliver even more than the widely debunked £350m a week to NHS was not just ludicrous, but completely misleading. As statisticians have said, the original claim ignores a rebate and EU funding of projects in this country.

Tellingly, the Foreign Secretary is still referring to a gross figure to back up his new fantasy, once more ignoring the flow of money into the UK from Europe. I am not the only person who is sceptical about Boris' motives and his dubious assertions.

As the Independent reports, Sarah Wollaston, who is a senior conservative MP and the chair of the House of Commons Health Committee, has said the Foreign Secretary’s use of the false statistic was “a disgrace” and “a deliberate deception”:

Dr Wollaston, a former GP, said Mr Johnson “should stop using that figure”.

She told BBC Five Live: “I feel it was entirely a deliberate deception [during the referendum campaign]. They knew that figure was incorrect but I had people repeatedly saying to me, ‘Well all that matters is that people remember a big number’.

“I found that shocking and I think it’s absolutely shocking that there are people continuing to use it. She added: “[Mr Johnson] should stop using it. It’s a disgrace, and I feel very strongly about that.

“We need to be very careful about the way we use data and that goes for all of us in public life.”

Ms Wollaston is absolutely right of course, but there is a wider point here around collective responsibility and the duty of Government Ministers not to mislead the public on key issues.

It is fairly clear that Boris Johnson can now get away with virtually anything within the government. Theresa May appears to have no authority over him and lacks the ability to rein him in. However, there is a difference between campaigning as a backbench MP in a referendum campaign and making promises as a Minister.

People will expect the UK Government to deliver on Boris' promise of an extra £350m a week for the NHS because as he is in the cabinet, he will be considered to have established all the facts before spouting off.

The fact that the Prime Minister has not contradicted him adds authority to this alternative truth. If this government continues to mislead in this way they may come back down to reality with a very painful bump.
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