It took one day for that promise to collapse. The murky sacking and reappointment of Suella Braverman already defines Sunak’s premiership.
Today, I hope to bring before parliament a Bill that, if passed, would require that politicians are always honest with the public. This ought not to be controversial. In healthcare, education, and business – sectors which clearly impact on the public interest – similar laws have already been established. Yet for politicians, despite the responsibility we hold and the significance of the decisions we are sometimes called to make, no such requirement exists.
I don’t really need to rehearse for you the problems this has already caused. Under our last two prime ministers, mistruths became the norm rather than an exception. Under Boris Johnson, lies were told about everything from parties at Downing Street to poverty levels in Britain. It is simply impossible to govern properly when facts are not shared, truths are hidden, and confidence is lost.
During Truss’ five-minute premiership, we witnessed an economic project entirely based on guesswork. Her plans reacted to scrutiny like a vampire to sunlight.
We need to stop this disease of deception from digging its roots yet deeper into our democracy.
Sadly, that wanton disregard for honesty appears to have already spread to Rishi Sunak. He began his premiership with a promise of integrity and accountability to Downing Street. Within a few hours, he had reinstated a home secretary who had been forced to resign for a blatant breach of the Ministerial Code.
Action is needed. Which brings me to my Bill. Efforts have been made across the House to hold rogue politicians to account for their falsehoods, but those efforts have largely been to no avail. That’s because there is simply no mechanism through which to stop a politician from lying.
In fact, prime minister Johnson watered down the flimsy protocols that did exist when he removed all references in the Ministerial Code for members of the government to be honest and transparent.
Johnson’s move at least gives us a clear-sighted view of the problem we face: individual politicians actively seeking to evade scrutiny and amend the rules to let them get away with it. In response we would be naive to think that small changes to Commons procedure or some as-yet-undiscovered parliamentary bye-law is going to help us. We’ve got to change the rules ourselves.
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Introducing such a duty on politicians is relatively simple. As I have said, such policies already exist in many other industries. It would require that any politician who is found to have written or spoken a falsehood (and we are talking here about verifiable data, not opinion) would be given the chance to correct the record. Failure to do so or repeated use of a lie would lead to a sanction – a fine, loss of the whip, or, for significant offences, removal from office.
My proposal already has significant backing. MPs from across the House – including from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, SNP, and Greens – have come on board and joined me in urging the speaker and the government to adopt this legislation. Over 200,000 people have signed a Compassion in Politics petition calling for this bill to be introduced and in a survey conducted by Opinium three in four people agreed that this law is needed.
The public are with us. Most politicians are with us. We are representing the values of truth, honesty, and respect. If the government also believes in those values and in representing the public, they will back my proposal.
Liz Saville Roberts MP is the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru