HuffPost journalist Arj Singh quoted a recording of Dominic Raab in a question and answer session at the FCDO saying: “I squarely believe we ought to be trading liberally around the world. If we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future.”
In reply an FCDO spokesperson claimed the audio had been “deliberately and selectively clipped to distort the foreign secretary’s comments”.
The spokesperson added: “As he made crystal clear in his full answer, the UK always stands up for and speaks out on human rights.”
Following this, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, the Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs that the comments made by Raab had been “shockingly distorted by low quality journalism”.
He went on “It is a cheat that journalists sometimes use of editing text or a recording. It was done to Roger Scruton by the New Statesman, and it has now been done to the Foreign Secretary. It is a very cheap level of journalism, and it is not a proper way to behave. He was absolutely clear that there are behaviours that mean we cannot trade with people—he said that—if only people had bothered not to clip the recording unfairly, improperly and, broadly, dishonestly. We should look at that type of poor-quality online journalism. It is not the sort of thing that would happen in The Times.”
“If the journalist didn’t clip it himself, he ought to have known it was clipped. He is either a knave or a fool.”
We contacted the FCDO and Jacob Rees-Mogg, asking them both to provide evidence that Raab’s words had been 'distorted'. Neither did so, despite in each case being given repeated opportunities in the course of a protracted correspondence to substantiate their claims. Rees-Mogg’s assault on Huffington Post is especially low grade because it was made under the protection of parliamentary privilege, which provides legal immunity to members of the House of Commons and House of Lords from defamation actions in the courts.
Despite many requests from us, neither the FCDO nor Jacob Rees-Mogg have been able to substantiate Rees-Mogg’s claim, made on the floor of the House of Commons, that “Arj Singh’s comments were “shockingly distorted by low-quality journalism.” This attack by the leader of the Commons on Arj Singh’s professional integrity would have been legally actionable but for the fact that it was made under parliamentary privilege. Rees-Mogg has neither apologised to Arj Singh nor corrected the record.
We have given Mr Rees-Mogg a number of opportunities to prove that he did not mislead MPs when he claimed on the floor of the Commons that Arj Singh’s report of Dominic Raab was “shockingly distorted by low quality journalism”. He has not taken them. His misleading statement remains on the Hansard record in defiance of the Ministerial Code. I challenge Mr Rees-Mogg to repeat his remarks outside the safety of the Commons chamber so that they can be tested in court.