Politics

More than 70 MPs back motion to stop ministers lying in parliament

Labour MP Dawn Butler filed the early day motion after being ejected from the House of Commons in July for saying Boris Johnson had lied in parliament.

Boris Johnson is accused of lying in parliament

Dawn Butler's early day motion says the prime minister has "Eroded" the ministerial code. Image: Uk Parliament/Flickr

More than 70 MPs have signed a motion for debate in parliament aiming to stop members — including the prime minister — from lying in the House of Commons. 

The early day motion put forward by Labour MP Dawn Foster intends to take back control of the ministerial code, designed to hold politicians to account, after deciding Boris Johnson lacks the “moral aptitude” for the responsibility.

The motion has been signed by 72 MPs so far, primarily from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

“At the moment the prime minister is in charge of the code,” Butler said in the House of Commons. “So the prime minister decides if the person is lying or not.

“Think about it. The prime minister can commit a crime of lying and then the prime minister is judge and jury. It makes no sense. It’s not fair and it’s not right.”

Butler, MP for Brent Central in London, was ejected from the House of Commons in July for accusing Johnson of lying in parliament and to the country repeatedly.

“It’s funny that we get in trouble in this place for calling out the lie, rather than the person lying,” she said at the time.

Early day motions are usually single-sentence points of debate submitted by MPs, though they are rarely actually debated and more commonly used to draw attention to a particular issue or campaign.

Commenting on the motion, Butler said MPs “need to be able to do what [they] were elected to do and hold government to account”. 

She added: “According to the ministerial code you are not allowed to lie. So parliament, not the PM, should hold ministers to account.”

The motion reads: “This House believes that trust in the ministerial code has been eroded by the actions of the prime minister; further believes that the prime minister should no longer be the guardian of the code as he has been shown to lack the moral aptitude needed; and therefore calls for steps to be taken to make the House of Commons responsible for deciding whether alleged breaches should be investigated and determining whether ministers have breached the code.”

The ministerial code is a set of rules and principles which government officials must adhere to in their jobs. In Westminster, breaches tend to be investigated by an independent adviser or the cabinet secretary, but there is no requirement to investigate a potential breach in any particular way or do so at all.

“Whether and how it is investigated is entirely at the prime minister’s discretion,” according to the Institute for Government.

If someone is found to have breached the ministerial code, many expect them to be fired or resign from their role, but there is no rule making this mandatory.

In a two-minute video by campaigner and lawyer Peter Stefanovic which has now been viewed nearly 35 million times, Boris Johnson was accused of lying in parliament about poverty, climate change and the NHS.

The motion “definitely evidences the conversation around the prime minister lying in the Commons is gathering momentum,” Stefanovic told The Big Issue. 

“The house of cards is most definitely starting to wobble.”

Butler referred to Stefanovic’s video in the Commons earlier this year, accusing Johnson of having “lied to this House and the country over and over again”. She was subsequently told to leave by the deputy speaker.

More than 130,000 people signed a recent petition asking to criminalise lying in the House of Commons.

Responding to the petition, the government said it did 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,” the spokesperson said, adding: “Freedom of speech in parliament is an essential part of our democracy.”

Butler wants constituents to contact their MPs and ask them to back her motion.

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