Ben Riley-Smith, political editor of the Daily Telegraph asked the Prime Minister what was his answer to those “who say he has an issue with the truth?” Boris Johnson replied: “I think I’m punctilious to a fault…I’m a stickler, like all Telegraph journalists.” Riley-Smith did not pursue the matter further.
As this website demonstrates, Boris Johnson is neither punctilious nor a stickler. Furthermore, the Telegraph had had direct experience of Boris Johnson’s chronic carelessness with the facts. In an article for the Daily Telegraph in January 2019, Johnson claimed that “the so-called-no-deal-option” for Brexit “is by some margin preferred by the British public.” This claim was false, and a reader complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. According to the regulator, the Telegraph stood by Johnson on the grounds that his article was “clearly comically polemical” and would not be read as a “serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of factual matters.”
The complaint was nevertheless upheld and the Telegraph was forced to publish a correction. Major issues also surrounded the circumstances of Johnson’s Telegraph column. Within a week of his resignation as foreign secretary in 2018, Johnson had struck a contract to write his weekly column without seeking advice from the Advisory Committee of Business Appointments (ACOBA). The committee chair, Baroness Browning, wrote to Johnson saying that “The committee considers it unacceptable that you signed a contract with The Telegraph before you had sought and obtained advice from the Committee, as was incumbent upon you leaving office under Govt rules.”
The letter went on to note that the rules were contained within the Ministerial Code and that he was guilty of a “failure to comply with your duty.”
It is reasonable to assume that, as political editor of the Daily Telegraph, Ben Riley-Smith was aware of the above. Yet, according to his own account, he failed to challenge the Prime Minister on his cynical and false boast that he was “punctilious to a fault” and “a stickler, like all Telegraph journalists.” As this website shows, a freewheeling complicity with Johnson’s lies and falsehoods is characteristic (with a handful of exceptions) of the British parliamentary lobby as a whole. To his credit Ben Riley-Smith raised the question of Boris Johnson’s truthfulness at a time when few others were doing so. It would have been better if he had baulked at Boris Johnson’s over-familiar claim to be a ‘Telegraph journalist.’ Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. The task of the political editor of a national paper is to report the facts.
Boris Johnson was lying. He is not ‘punctilious to a fault.’ Johnson himself knew this when he made his claim, and (it is reasonable to assume) so did Ben Riley-Smith, who allowed the Prime Minister to get away with it.