To judge Boris Johnson by both his words and his deeds, it seems he is a liar and a coward.
The UK’s current excuse for a prime minister caused controversy in a discussion on nurses’ pay during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Challenged by Keir Starmer over the government’s decision to renege on a promise to deliver a 2.1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff, cutting it back to a below-inflation one per cent (effectively a pay cut), Johnson claimed that “the last time that we put this to a vote, the right hon. and learned Gentleman voted against it”.
He was taken to be referring to the NHS Funding Act last year – wrongly, because nobody voted on it at all; with support from all main parties it went through “on the nod”.
His press secretary, Allegra Stratton, has now claimed that he was referring to the Queen’s Speech at the opening of the current session of Parliament.
This is odd, because I’ve just watched the relevant part of that speech and Her Majesty didn’t breathe a single word about a 2.1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff.
Looking at the NHS Funding Act, though, I can’t find any reference to a 2.1 per cent boost there either.
Starmer himself had been referring to the NHS Long-Term Plan document published by the Tories government of the day in June 2019. That was a policy document and nobody in Parliament voted on it.
So whatever Boris Johnson meant when he said it, Keir Starmer cannot possibly have voted against such a pay rise for NHS nurses.
At PMQs, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, called for Johnson to correct his statement – and the prime minister refused. Speaker Lyndsey Hoyle confused the issue by stating that Ashworth had corrected the record by making his intervention.
He has since issued a new statement saying the onus was on MPs to “correct the record if they make an inaccurate statement to the house”.
He said failure to do so would be “dishonourable”.
This means it was not enough for Allegra Stratton to make new claims in a press conference – or for Jacob Rees-Mogg to attempt to clarify the meaning behind Johnson’s comments in a short statement yesterday (Thursday).
To clear himself of the dishonour he has caused, Johnson must return to Parliament and explain what he said, what it meant and why he said it in a way that makes sense.
Will he do it? No.
He knows he can’t; it would only give Labour, the SNP and anybody else who fancies it a chance to stick the boot in, because there is no sensible explanation for his comment.
He can live with the dishonour because Boris Johnson knows exactly what he is.
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