Sir Oliver Letwin was telephoning Lord Pannick about his Brexit amendment while visiting the prime minister

“Senior Tories”

October 20, 2019

Claim

The Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday reported that while visiting Downing Street on 18 October to propose to Boris Johnson an amendment to Saturday’s planned meaningful vote, Sir Oliver Letwin telephoned Lord Pannick QC, who had helped lead the Supreme Court case against the government proroguing parliament. The Mail on Sunday attributed this information to “senior Tories.” The Sunday Times story was based on “senior sources.” Here is part of The Sunday Times account: 

As Letwin resisted pressure to redraft his amendment during a meeting at No. 10 on Friday night, senior sources say he received conspiratorial phone calls in which he was given “instructions” from Lord Pannick, who represented the anti-Brexit businesswoman Gina Miller when she challenged Boris Johnson over the suspension of parliament. One witness said: “He walked through No. 10 giggling like an eight-year-old and had to keep calling Pannick on his mobile to find out what he was allowed to do.” As Letwin was being urged to alter the wording, the witness said: “He said he had to ask Pannick. Pannick said, ‘Don’t change a word’ and Letwin said, ‘Sorry, I can’t do anything.’” 

Both newspapers said Sir Oliver had asked Lord Pannick for instruction on what he should say to the prime minister. The claim that Letwin spoke to Pannick on the phone was repeated on the following Monday by The Daily Mail and The Times. The Daily Telegraph quoted a source saying “Pannick is the organ grinder. Letwin's just the useful idiot.”

Facts

Both The Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday printed denials by Lord Pannick. Lord Pannick acknowledged that he had helped Sir Oliver with the amendment but denied speaking to him on 18 October. When I spoke to Sir Oliver, he confirmed no conversation had taken place. 

Verdict 

Once again, the anonymous “senior Tories” quoted in The Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday were lying. This was yet another example of the readiness of British political journalists to repeat lies told to them by unnamed sources.

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