My advice? Don’t believe him.
Don’t believe him when he says he will pull his EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill unless MPs vote on Monday for a December election, and don’t believe him when he says the government will go on strike unless he gets what he wants.
Because Boris Johnson is a liar. He lies routinely about what he plans to do next, and he also lies, repeatedly, about what is in his Brexit deal.
Which is why MPs are absolutely right to insist that they must have enough time to find the lies, expose them, and do something about them. His rabbit-out-of-a-hat offer last night to ‘allow’ a few more days’ debate if – and only if – they vote for a pre-Christmas election was as tawdry and puerile as pretty much everything else he has tried since the summer.
In the words of an anonymous Tory MP quoted last night in The Guardian: ‘The PM might be popular, but he is not trusted.’ Really? I wonder why that is …
I was encouraged by a line in the Ofcom review of the BBC’s news output, published yesterday. What it says about the BBC’s journalists applies equally to all journalists: ‘They should feel able to challenge controversial viewpoints that have little support or are not backed up by facts, making this clear to viewers, listeners and readers.’
So here goes. Boris Johnson is lying. He is a liar. What he says is not backed up by facts.
An example: he told MPs earlier this week that the ‘salient feature’ of the arrangements he has negotiated for trade across the Irish Sea is that ‘they evaporate. They disintegrate. They vanish, unless a majority of the Northern Ireland assembly elects to keep them … The default position is alignment with the UK …’
Wrong. According to Hugo Dixon of the invaluable anti-Brexit fact-checking website Infacts.org: ‘The default position is alignment with the EU – and that only changes if a majority of the NI Assembly votes otherwise. If the Assembly doesn’t meet, which has been the case for most of the past three years, there won’t even be a vote.’
Another example: the prime minister told MPs: ‘There are no checks GB-NI. There will be some light touch measures to ensure there is no illegal trade in endangered animal species and banned firearms.’
Wrong again. According to the government’s own impact assessment: ‘Goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be required to complete both import declarations and entry summary declarations … This will result in additional administrative costs to businesses.’
I don’t want to labour the point unnecessarily, but this stuff is important. And if you want a taste of the true level of this government’s duplicity, mendacity and sheer effrontery, read the following exchange between the prime minister’s official spokesman (PMOS) and Adam Blenkov of Business Insider on Wednesday.
AB: Why did the prime minister say there will be no checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain when the impact assessment says there will be exit and entry declarations?
PMOS: I think the fact is that Northern Ireland is and will remain in the UK’s customs territory. The deal explicitly allows the UK to ensure unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to GB. We don’t intend to carry out checks on these goods. There will be a minimal administrative process provided electronically.
AB: Those administrative processes are checks. Those declarations will be checked, won’t they?
PMOS: No, they are administrative processes.
Journalist: So nobody needs to bother filling them in then? You don’t have to bother with this administrative process if nobody is going to check it.
PMOS: That’s a different question.
Journalist: Are there going to be checks or are there not?
PMOS: There will be a minimal administrative process.
Don’t worry, though. It’ll all be fine. It’s a really great deal. Boris says so.
On the other side of the Atlantic, US news media have got used to calling out President Trump’s lies. According to the Washington Post, which has been keeping count since the day he took office, Trump had made 13,435 false or misleading claims as he approached his 1,000th day in the White House last week. That’s an average of more than thirteen every single day, although the Post says that since the start of impeachment proceedings against him, he has ‘significantly stepped up his pace of spouting exaggerated numbers, unwarranted boasts and outright falsehoods.’
It’s time we started doing the same for Boris Johnson. Expose every lie. Keep count of them. And if there is to be an early general election, install a team of fact checkers in every major news organisation.
Oh, and by the way, remember this from just last month?
Question: ‘Can you make a promise today to the British public that you will not go back to Brussels and ask for another delay to Brexit?’
Answer: ‘Yes, I can. I’d rather be dead in a ditch.’
Fact: Boris Johnson did go back to Brussels and he did ask for another delay to Brexit. And at time of writing, he is not dead in a ditch.