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Boris Johnson accused of lying to MPs in NHS pay row

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a protective face covering to combat the spread of the coronavirus, leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on March 10, 2021, to take part in the weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson continues to be at the centre of the NHS pay row. (AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has been accused of lying to MPs about NHS pay.

It came as the row over the government’s recommended 1% pay rise for NHS staff continued at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday.

With Johnson having been criticised for not following a previously budgeted pay increase of 2.1%, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called out the PM's incorrect claim that Labour voted against the NHS Funding Bill last year.

Here is what was said on Wednesday…

At PMQs, Johnson twice claimed Labour voted against the settlement for the NHS.

In one of the exchanges, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Johnson "made a promise to the NHS, here in black and white, his document [the NHS Funding Act], it commits to a minimum pay rise of 2.1%. It’s being budgeted for and now it’s being taken away.

“He shakes his head – his MPs voted for it. So why, after everything the NHS has done for us, is he now breaking promise after promise?”

Johnson replied: “He voted against the document in question, to crown the absurdity of his point.”

Watch: Boris Johnson attacked over 40% pay rise for Dominic Cummings 'while nurses' salaries cut'

After PMQs, Ashworth raised a point of order, with the PM hurriedly exiting the House of Commons chamber.

Gesturing at an empty despatch box, Ashworth said: “The prime minister twice from that despatch box said that the Labour opposition voted against the NHS Funding Bill and the 2.1% increase for NHS staff – this is not the case.

“Indeed, in the debate, as Hansard [the official record of parliamentary debates] will show, I was explicit that we would not be dividing the House [a process of MPs formally registering their votes when there is not agreement in the chamber].”

He later tweeted: "Boris Johnson today lied."

…and here is what was said in January last year

Ashworth took part in a debate on the bill at its second reading – the second of 11 parliamentary stages that proposed legislation must go through before it can be signed off to become law – in the Commons on 27 January last year.

During the debate, Ashworth – as he stated on Wednesday – said Labour would “not divide the House”. So its MPs did not vote against it.

However, Ashworth didn't mention that he had pledged to amend it during that debate, having labelled it the "underfunding bill".

Jonathan Ashworth in the Commons on Wednesday. (Parliamentlive.tv)
Jonathan Ashworth in the Commons on Wednesday. (Parliamentlive.tv)

Here is what he said, quoted from Hansard:

"The point is this: those most in need of health services now experience the poorest quality of care. It is an absolute disgrace. This political stunt of an underfunding bill will not deliver the scale of improvements that our constituents deserve. We will not divide the House tonight, but instead seek to amend the bill. Let us be clear: the government should have brought forward a fully funded financial settlement for our NHS and social care. The ever lengthening queues of the sick and elderly in our constituencies deserve so much better."

Three opposition amendments to the bill were put forward on 4 February last year, with each one defeated at votes. After going through the remaining parliamentary stages, the bill eventually became law on 16 March without a vote.

Will Johnson have to correct his claims?

No. During the point of order, Ashworth asked Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to “get the prime minister to return to the House and correct the record”.

Hoyle, however, ruled it was not a point of order but “it is certainly a point of clarification – that part has been achieved”.

Later, Johnson's press secretary Allegra Stratton was repeatedly challenged over his comments.

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In a briefing for journalists, Number 10 was asked about 20 questions on the issue.

Downing Street indicated Johnson would not apologise or correct the record, but did not dispute that he was incorrect.

Stratton told reporters: “The key thing is that this was dealt with swiftly and the speaker, who has enormous respect and authority in Parliament, regards it as a point of clarification and it has now been dealt with.”

Asked if Johnson had a problem with facts, Stratton said: “No, he doesn’t." She repeated: "The speaker addressed this as a point of clarification and it has been dealt with today.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, London. Picture date: Wednesday March 10, 2020. (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson leaves 10, Downing Street on Wednesday before PMQs. (Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)

The ministerial code states that it is of “paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity".

Stratton said Johnson “absolutely agrees” with the ministerial code and “in this instance the system worked” because Hoyle had responded to Ashworth.

Ashworth has nonetheless written to Johnson, calling on him to correct the record in the Commons.

Watch: How England is leaving lockdown