Lying with impunity

I have today had a letter from the office of that egregious ass, Jake Mogg, known principally for lying in the House of Commons, as shown above, though he has lied elsewhere, too [see Mogg the Mendacious, Mogg Mendax]. The letter (which is quite as underwhelming as you would expect) was in belated response to a petition seeking to ‘Make lying in the House of Commons a criminal offence’ which asked that

The Government should introduce legislation to make lying in the House of Commons a criminal offence. This would mean that all MPs, including Ministers, would face a serious penalty for knowingly making false statements in the House of Commons, as is the case in a court of law.

We believe false statements have been made in the House and, although regarded as a “serious offence” in principle, options to challenge this are extremely limited as accusing a member of lying is forbidden in the House. 

Truth in the House of Commons is every bit as important as truth in a court of law and breaches should be treated in a similar way to perjury and carry similar penalties.

The letter begins,

‘The Government does not intend to introduce legislation of this nature. MPs must abide by the Code of Conduct and conduct in the Chamber is a matter for the Speaker.’

As will become apparent below, this utterance is on a par with Mogg’s habitual standard of misleading statements.

(You can read the response in full – for what it is worth – if you click on the link to the petition above)

It has taken over three weeks for the government to come up with this response, which should have been triggered when the petition reached 10,000 signatures, which it did on the day that Dawn Butler was expelled from the House of Commons for telling the truth. The truth she told was that on several occasions the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had lied to the House of Commons by making false or misleading statements at the despatch box. Ms Butler cited a video by Peter Stefanovic which documented those instances. An independent fact-checker subsequently found that ‘the majority of Mr Johnson’s claims that Ms Butler mentioned were either false or misleading.’ The video has now had in excess of 31.1 million views and has featured as a news story on foreign TV stations, yet has inexplicably failed to feature on BBC News (even in their report of Ms Butler’s expulsion, when she expressly cited it).

Ms Butler was expelled because the House of Commons has very precise and detailed rules about ‘unparliamentary language’. Thus, ‘Accusations of deliberate falsehood, if seriously alleged, would be a matter of privilege and could be made only on a substantive motion secured by writing privately to the Speaker to obtain permission to raise a matter of privilege. Any such accusation made in the course of other proceedings would be disorderly and must be withdrawn.

Technically, there is no doubt that Madam Deputy Speaker was correct in asking Ms Butler to amend her words and in expelling her when she refused to do so, but the manner of her doing it suggested that she found the breach of parliamentary etiquette far more outrageous than the well-substantiated assertion that the Prime Minister had repeatedly misled the house. There is a yawning hole in the procedures of the archaic and often absurd institution on which our country depends for government and legislation that means that the Speaker has stronger powers to sanction MPs who accuse others of lying in the chamber than those who actually lie (see ‘what are the consequences for politicians who lie?‘ a Channel 4 fact check).

The full flavour of this absurdity is well brought out in Mogg’s letter, which helpfully informs me that

MPs are also subject to the House of Commons Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members’ which ‘includes a general duty on MPs to “act in the interests of the nation as a whole…” alongside a requirement that MPs “act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them. They should always behave with probity and integrity”

furthermore, there is a

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards [who] is an independent officer of the House of Commons and is responsible for investigating allegations that MPs have breached the rules in the Code of Conduct.’

Sounds good, eh? Except that, as the letter goes on,

Conduct in the Chamber is beyond the remit of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. This is because the House has determined that how Members conduct themselves in the Chamber, including their adherence to the principles of public life, is a matter for the Speaker

In other words, the House of Commons Code of Conduct has no force in the Chamber of the House of Commons because the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (an officer of the House of Commons) has no responsibility for… standards of conduct in the chamber of the House of Commons.

However, although one would have thought that lying to the House of Commons was clearly a case of not ‘adhering to the principles of public life’ what is less clear is that it is the responsibility of the Speaker to do anything about it: Erskine May, the so-called ‘Bible’ of Parliamentary procedure, says that

The Speaker’s responsibility for questions is limited to their compliance with the rules of the House. Responsibility in other respects rests with the Member who proposes to ask the question, and responsibility for answers rests with Ministers.

And the present Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle – a sadly spineless and ineffectual creature, in my view – has said, “The Speaker cannot be dragged into arguments about whether a statement is inaccurate or not. This is a matter of political debate.” (Though to be fair to him, previous holders of that office have said the same).

So if it is not for the Parliamentary Commissioner or the Speaker to do anything about the Prime Minister’s lying to parliament, whose then is the responsibility?

I expect you have already guessed. Such conduct is a clear breach of the Ministerial Code (aka ‘the Nolan Principles’) and the sole responsibility for interpreting and enforcing that lies with…

…the Prime Minister.

To sum up, in this absurd Alice-in-Wonderland institution, which has not enough seats to accommodate its members, a voting system that requires the members to troop out into the lobby then back in again through the appropriate door, and till recently required the wearing of a top hat to make a point of order during a division*, the Prime Minister is sole arbiter of whether he (or any of his ministers) should suffer any sanction for lying to the House or failing to correct the parliamentary record when they have made a false statement to the House.

Could I suggest, Mr Mogg, that a more honest response would simply have read,

‘The Government does not intend to introduce legislation of this nature as the Prime Minister (and other ministers, if he allows it) can at present lie to parliament with impunity, and we would prefer to keep it that way.’

*To increase their appearance during debates and to be seen more easily, a Member wishing to raise a point of order during a division was, until 1998, required to speak with his hat on. Collapsible top hats were kept for the purpose. This requirement was abolished following recommendations from the Modernisation Select Committee, which stated: “At present, if a Member seeks to raise a point of order during a division, he or she must speak “seated and covered”. In practice this means that an opera hat which is kept at each end of the Chamber has to be produced and passed to the Member concerned. This inevitably takes some time, during which the Member frequently seeks to use some other form of covering such as an Order Paper. This particular practice has almost certainly brought the House into greater ridicule than almost any other, particularly since the advent of television. We do not believe that it can be allowed to continue.”

If what they say is true, then how did we get here?

A Dutch view of prorogation

A useful test is to ask whether the account that people give of events is consistent with the events themselves.

If it were really the case that in the 2016 referendum ‘the country voted overwhelmingly to leave’ (to quote the chronically untruthful Bernard Jenkin, MP*) is that at all consistent with the point we have now reached, and the path we have followed to get there?

If that were the case, is it conceivable that Theresa May, boldly flying her banner with a strange device – ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – would have lost her majority when she called an election expressly to increase it, so finding herself reliant on the ‘support’ of the DUP, which proved fatal not only to her Brexit deal, but ultimately to her premiership?

Would we not rather have expected her to be swept to power by the 80% of the electorate that supposedly support Brexit, according to the convoluted casuistry of the congenitally mendacious Jake Mogg? ** 

From such a position of strength, her deal would have passed first time, complete with Irish backstop, and we would have left the EU on the date originally intended.

But Mrs May did lose her majority, her Brexit deal and finally her job; yet if all this was the fault of a treacherous Remainer parliament determined to thwart the will of the British people, why did Mrs May and her successor consistently rule out a ‘People’s Vote’, i.e. a second referendum on the subject of EU membership?

If it were the case that ‘the country voted overwhelmingly to leave’ then a second referendum could only confirm the first, leaving those Remainer elite MPs without a leg to stand on, nor any rag to cover their shame. Surely – if the facts were as Jenkin, Johnson, Mogg, Gove and the rest pretend – it would be the Leavers who would take to the street in their millions demanding a People’s Vote? Why would the Remainers call for something that would only confirm once more that theirs was a lost cause?

And if there really was a solid majority in favour of leaving the EU would we not already have left in an orderly fashion under Mrs May, rather than have reached the present pass where a Prime Minister appointed by 92,153 people to lead a population of 65.5 million issues a public statement that “the claim that the govt is considering proroguing parliament in Sept … is entirely false.’’ when in fact he has already decided to do so (as was demonstrated at the Court of Session in Scotland today)?

And would the same Prime Minister have to maintain the threadbare pretence that, by ruling out the Irish backstop – which the EU have made clear is not negotiable – and by taking the position that the UK will leave on 31 October ‘with or without a deal’, he is genuinely engaged in trying to negotiate a better deal with EU rather than intentionally precipitating a no-deal Brexit? (an outcome that is generally agreed to be calamitous for the country)

I suggest that, if Messrs Jenkin, Johnson, Gove, Mogg and the rest were actually telling the truth when they said (as they have repeatedly) that the British people voted for Brexit, then events would not have played out as they have to bring us to our present predicament. I therefore conclude that those ‘honourable gentlemen’ have not been telling the truth and that our present situation is quite the opposite from what they claim it to be: far from a recalcitrant Remainer elite group of MPs  attempting to thwart the will of the people, the reality is that a small gang of unscrupulous and self-interested MPs have hijacked the government of our country and are determined to force through an outcome that has only ever been supported in any form by a minority of people and in this latest form – a disorderly Brexit with no arrangements in place – has few supporters if any.***

They appear to be hellbent on steering the ship of state onto the rocks, in some cases at least (the egregious Mogg) for personal gain: it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that their behaviour is both criminal and treasonable.

*as I have pointed out many times before, there are around 65.5 million British people, of whom 46.5 million were eligible to vote in the 2016 referendum. Only 17.4 million expressed a desire to leave the EU and so change a status quo that is all that half the population has known since birth (according to the most recent census data (2011) over half the population were 39 or younger at a time when Britain had been in the EU for 38 years; it is safe to say that it was certainly the case that by 2016 more than half the British people had grown up as EU citizens) It is therefore impossible to sustain with any truth the claim that the British people (or even a majority of them) voted to leave. The great majority of the electorate (62%) expressed no desire to do so. For a closer examination of this point, see ‘Liars in Public Places‘.

**In a brief interview of extraordinary mendacity, the egregious Mogg attempted to claim that there was no need of a further referendum because ‘We had an election in 2017 where over 80% of people voted for parties committed to leaving’. He conveniently overlooks the fact that it has been the norm for the last hundred years for the great majority to vote for the same two parties, and also that many who voted for those parties did so for reasons other than their Brexit stance.

***No less an authority than the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster himself, plucky Michael Gove, has assured us that ‘no-one voted for no deal

Ow! yaroo! Stop it, you beasts!

Yaroo

I have remarked before that the level at which Boris Johnson operates – and those about him – is ‘school debating society’. That is why the majority of EU politicians, who are serious-minded, grown-up types who see politics in terms of public service (as we once did in this country) cannot comprehend him.

Today’s proroguing of parliament epitomises this: it is the kind of thing only a schoolboy would think clever.

First we have the wording of this response given by Downing St. to Iain Watson, BBC political correspondent, regarding the Observer article that broke the story about the government checking out the legality of such a move:

“the claim that the govt is considering proroguing parliament in Sept in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false.’’ [my italics]

You can just picture the tittering behind hands that accompanied this – ‘we just have to say we prorogued it for a different reason and that will make it true! Aren’t we clever?’

Then we have (with more schoolboy sniggers, no doubt) the devising of the story to be given out when questions are asked: this is perfectly normal, entirely usual, nothing at all to do with Brexit – so far I have heard this in various forms from messrs Redwood, Mogg, Dung-can Smith and of course Johnson himself (who rather overstepped the mark with typical bungling exuberance when he dishonestly claimed to be leading ‘a new government’ – did you win a General Election then, Boris?)

Picture the smirking self-congratulation –  ‘all we have to do is to stick to saying that the reason is nothing to do with Brexit and just about allowing time for a new programme of legislation and they can’t get us!’

well, as the Walrus of Westminster, the redoubtable John Pienaar (BBC deputy political editor) succinctly puts it, 

“If you wholly and unquestionably believe that, you will wholly and unquestionably believe anything.”

And there, I think, he puts his finger on the major flaw in the Johnson gang’s merry prank. 

People do not like being taken for fools, particulary by smug public schoolboys like Jake Mogg and Boris Johnson. The entire country knows that this is about stifling debate on Brexit and that what they are being offered is a knowingly false account.

But there is something else: behind the smug, dishonest facade – ‘nothing to see here, not to do with Brexit at all, just move along’ I catch the rank smell of fear. Johnson is desperate, as today’s measure demonstrates: one of the few true things he has said is that he will do anything to get Brexit done by 31 October.

But that does not mean he will succeed.

Liars in public places

‘die breite Masse eines Volkes… einer großen Lüge leichter zum Opfer fällt als einer kleinen’ – ‘the broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.’ (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf)

‘These are people who are bent on trying to reverse the substance of Brexit and if we finish up with Brexit in name only there will be a terrific backlash in the country because the country voted overwhelmingly to leave.’ (Bernard Jenkin MP, broadcast on the Today programme, 7 July 2017)

As big lies go, it would be hard to find a more consummate piece of public dishonesty in recent times than that.

The country voted overwhelmingly to leave

Did it really, Mr Jenkin?

I do not think that (not quite) 52% to (slightly more than) 48% can be construed as ‘overwhelming’ in any sense of that word; furthermore, a total of 17.4 million out of an electorate of 46.5 million is 37.4%: that is a considerable minority, not an overwhelming majority; an overwhelming majority would be something like 62.6%the percentage of the electorate who did not vote to leave the European Union.

But you know this, Mr Jenkin. You know that every time you make claims like this you are deliberately misleading the public and fostering a lie, just as Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg does when he speaks of ‘the will of the British people being thwarted’ if people have the temerity to  speak against leaving the EU.

Yet you do it, day in and day out. You try to silence your opponents by what the psychologists call ‘projection’: attributing to others the very faults of which you yourself are guilty. Thus, anyone who dares raise any difficulty that Brexit might entail (and as you know full well, there are many) is said to be advancing phony arguments for an ulterior motive; their real intention is to ‘reverse the substance of Brexit’, and that will incur ‘a terrific backlash in the country because the country voted overwhelmingly to leave.’

The truth of the matter – as you know – is that it is your arguments that are phony, and that you are determined to hustle the British people into accepting the views of a vociferous minority despite the fact that an overwhelming majority do not agree with them.

There will be a terrific backlash: but it will be against you and your like, the liars in public places, and against the craven parliamentarians and ineffectual journalists who meekly accepted your lie and did not robustly challenge it every time you uttered it.

Shame on them, and shame on you.