Boris Johnson and Full Fact: a brief history of factchecking

23 July 2019 | Full Fact Team

Some time tomorrow afternoon—barring some unprecedented constitutional shenanigans—Boris Johnson will enter Number 10 as the UK’s new prime minister.

At Full Fact we’ve been factchecking claims that Mr. Johnson has made for almost a decade, ever since we were founded in 2010. We factchecked him, as we did every other candidate, in the 2012 London Mayoral elections; we factchecked both sides of the 2016 referendum campaign with the same degree of scrutiny. 

The first factcheck we can find in our archive was on his use of youth crime statistics while London Mayor in July 2010 (we thought he was missing some important context.) The most recent one is from five days ago, and is about some kippers.

In that time, we’ve found no shortage of things to correct him on: when he’s flat out wrong, whether it’s on kippers or fracking or, yes, how much we send to the EU each week; when his words are misleading, on tax or cycle safety or immigration or Article 5(b) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We’ve also said when his words are technically accurate but missing context, which it turns out is the most common category in our archive (we counted, obviously).

We even factchecked a claim he made in his resignation letter as Foreign Secretary

We’ve also said very clearly when he’s right: on police numbers and crime figures back in 2012, or on aviation noise in the same year, right up to June this year when he was talking about crime figures again

Indeed, even on an issue where we said that he was wrong—the £350 million claim—we also pushed back against the UK Statistics Authority when we felt that their criticism of his words went further than the facts suggested.

Throughout this time, we haven’t just checked Mr. Johnson’s facts: we’ve called on him to do better, and intervened when he didn’t. In 2011, we twice got the UK Statistics Authority to take him to task for his lax approach to using data: when he used transport crime figures that weren’t available to the public, and when he gave the Home Affairs select committee figures on youth reoffending rates that were based purely on “anecdotal evidence”

In 2012, we campaigned for all Mayoral candidates to commit to following the Code of Practice for Official Statistics (a loophole means that the Greater London Authority legally doesn’t have to). We repeatedly pushed Mr. Johnson on this when he failed to make that commitment or sent mixed messages about it. (He never did; his successor eventually signed up to it in 2018.)

As prime minister, we hope that Mr. Johnson will commit to the highest standards of accuracy and honesty. We hope he’ll follow the three principles we believe all public figures should uphold: get your facts straight, back up what you say with evidence, and correct your mistakes. 

And whatever happens, we’ll continue to scrutinise his words in the same way we have for the past nine years—fairly, impartially, and with the belief that the public deserves clear and trustworthy information from our leaders.

With the backing of our supporters, we’ve held all prime ministers to those same principles since 2010.

Will you join them, and stand up for honesty in politics?

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