Christian Matheson – 2022 Speech on Referring Boris Johnson to the Committee of Privileges

The speech made by Christian Matheson, the Labour MP for the City of Chester, in the House of Commons on 21 April 2022.

There has been a lot of talk about apologies. I remind the House that the motion is not about whether the Prime Minister has apologised but whether he knowingly lied to the House. He has not apologised for that—he has not even admitted it. In fact, he has persistently and consistently said that “there was no party”, that there was no cake and that there was a party but there was no cake—I could go on. I welcome those apologies, but let us be clear about what the motion says.

Earlier, the leader of the SNP, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), reflected the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) about the Prime Minister’s modus operandi: he leaves a trail of chaos in his wake and lets other people pick up and take responsibility for the problems that he has caused. The latest victim of that—I told him that I would mention this—is Mr Speaker and the office of the chair. Recently, when he had to chuck out the leader of the SNP for calling the Prime Minister a liar, he got huge amounts of public opprobrium, saying, “What on earth is Speaker Hoyle doing? Why is he chucking out the leader of the SNP when we know what the Prime Minister is up to?” The Prime Minister does not mind because somebody else takes the criticism for that. He is undermining not simply Mr Speaker but this House and, as hon. Members have said, our democratic system. The public cannot understand what on earth is going on when one person gets thrown out and the person who is the root of the problem is happy to stay there smirking on the Front Bench. That is his modus operandi, and it is dragging our democratic system down.

We all make mistakes. I make mistakes, and I have had to correct the record. We have heard about apologies and about the Prime Minister being contrite, but I do not recall one occasion on which he has come back to the House and corrected the record. Not one. I think that there is an outstanding letter to him from the UK Statistics Authority about a misleading claim that he has yet to come back to correct. The bottom line is that the Prime Minister will say whatever is necessary at one point to get out of whatever situation he is in, with no sense of obligation to the truth or to whatever promise he has just made. I have scribbled down a list of five or 10 promises he has made and broken, but, as I do not want you to call me up, Madam Deputy Speaker, as we are talking specifically about the occasions when he denied there was a party, that list will have to wait for another occasion—but there will be another occasion.

As I have said, the Prime Minister is damaging the UK’s reputation abroad. Outside this Chamber, our partners abroad—as well as our adversaries and enemies—can see that he is losing credibility and they cannot necessarily work with him because his word cannot be trusted. That damages the UK, and that is serious at a time of international crisis.

I finish by quoting an article from The Guardian by Simon Kuper about the Oxford Union and a younger version of the Prime Minister who wrote an essay on Oxford politics for his sister’s book, “The Oxford Myth”:

“His essay tackles the great question: how to set about becoming the next prime minister? Johnson advises student politicians to assemble ‘a disciplined and deluded collection of stooges’ to get out the vote.”

Remember that this was just after he left university. The quote from the Prime Minister in his earlier days continues:

“The tragedy of the stooge is that…he wants so much to believe that his relationship with the candidate is special that he shuts out the truth. The terrible art of the candidate is to coddle the self-deception of the stooge.”

Those were the Prime Minister’s views then. They are apparently still the Prime Minister’s views today. The British people have made up their mind and for them the penny has dropped. I say to hon. Members on the Conservative Benches that it is time for the penny to drop for them as well. They need to search their feelings. They know it to be true. This is the manner of the Prime Minister and today is the time finally to put a line underneath that.