“To deliver on the public’s priorities we require a new session and a Queen’s Speech”

Boris Johnson announces the proroguing of parliament

August 27, 2019

Claim

In the Downing Street press release announcing prorogation, Johnson laid out his reasons for proroguing parliament as allowing him to address “crucial public priorities — helping the NHS, fighting violent crime, investing in infrastructure and science and cutting the cost of living.” In an interview that same day, Boris Johnson said it was “completely untrue” that the prorogation was an attempt to stop MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit. He claimed “we are doing exactly what I said on the steps of Downing Street, which is that we must get on now with our legislative, domestic agenda.”

Facts

The claim that prorogation was enacted to allow for a Queen’s Speech was cast in doubt the next day when Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was caught on camera describing prorogation in very different terms. Wallace, who did not know his words were being overheard, said: “Parliament has been very good at saying what it doesn’t want but it has been awful at saying what it wants. That’s the reality. So you know any leader has to, you know, try. I don’t know what the outcome of it ... (laughter). Oh politics.” He made no mention of the “exciting new legislative agenda.”

Wallace continued in much the same vein: “Our system is a winner-takes-all system. If you win a parliamentary majority, you control everything, you control the timetable. There’s no written separation. So it’s, you pretty much are in command of the whole thing. And we’ve suddenly found ourselves with no majority and no coalition, and that’s not easy for our system.”

Wallace was immediately slapped down by an unnamed Downing Street source who said “The defence secretary misspoke and was not involved in discussions about the Queen’s Speech.” When Wallace next found himself in the public domain following the judgment of the Scottish Court, he had reverted to the official line that the prorogation was “nothing to do with Brexit.” 

Verdict

The difference between statements made by government ministers in private conversations and in public is telling.

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