Johnson resisting calls to correct Commons record over NHS funding comments

Emma Bowden and Richard Wheeler, PA
·4-min read

Boris Johnson is resisting calls to apologise and correct the Commons record following claims he lied to MPs over Labour’s position on an NHS pay deal.

Downing Street insisted that the Prime Minister was not incorrect when he said that Labour voted against an NHS funding package, as he was in fact referring to a different vote.

It comes after Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle made a statement in light of concerns around the comments, saying that MPs “must take responsibility” for correcting the record if they make a mistake in the chamber.

The row erupted following a clash between Mr Johnson and Sir Keir at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, over proposals for a below-inflation pay rise for NHS workers in England.

The Labour leader stated the funding package had included a 2.1% increase, rather than the 1% now recommended by ministers.

During the exchanges, Mr Johnson twice claimed that Labour voted against the settlement for the NHS, but the NHS Funding Act was approved without a vote in early 2020.

On Thursday, Number 10 said that the Prime Minister would not correct the record as he was referring to the Queen’s Speech, which contained a Bill on the NHS budget.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton told a Westminster briefing: “The Leader of the House made the point that the Prime Minister was referring to Labour voting against the Queen’s Speech in January of last year.

“That was the case that the Prime Minister was referring to yesterday in the Commons.”

Asked if this meant Mr Johnson thought he did not need to correct the record, she said: “The Prime Minister has explained the basis for his point.

“The NHS funding bill was in the Queen’s Speech, the Labour Party voted against the Queen’s Speech, that is the basis for the point he made.”

In response, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has written to Mr Johnson claiming he may have “inadvertently broken the ministerial code” by failing to correct the record.

The ministerial code states “it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent errors”.

Mr Ashworth told the Prime Minister: “I note you have so far made no attempt to clarify your remarks personally, and in failing to do so may have inadvertently broken the ministerial code.

“I further note that your press secretary Allegra Stratton has attempted to clarify your remarks further today by stating they referenced a different vote.

“If this is the case, I believe it is in the public interest that you clarify the situation yourself through a statement to Parliament to abide by the code.”

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Earlier on Thursday, Sir Lindsay, in his statement, told the Commons: “All members should correct the record if they make an inaccurate statement to the House.

“They can do so by raising a point of order or in debate or, in the case of ministers, they can make a statement or issue a written ministerial statement.

“The Government’s own ministerial code could not be clearer about what is expected of ministers.

“It says: ‘It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity’.

“The Speaker cannot be dragged into arguments about whether a statement is inaccurate or not. This is a matter of political debate.

“All members of this House are honourable. They must take responsibility for correcting the record if a mistake has been made. It is not dishonourable to make a mistake, but to seek to avoid admitting one is a different matter.

“I said when I was elected Speaker that we needed to treat each other and the electorate with respect.

“What I have talked about today is an important part of that and I hope all members will act in that spirit.”

In January, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon also accused Mr Johnson of “misleading” MPs by claiming his 200-day-old comments on quarantine measures were recent.