Open letter to the Prime Minister and Chair of the Conservative Party
This week we have published an open letter to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and Conservative Party Chair, Greg Hands. Our letter was about the misleading claim that the Labour Party is pledging to open Britain’s borders to 100,000 more migrants each year, and builds on emails from 2,700 of our supporters asking Rishi Sunak to stop repeating this claim.
In the letter—featured in the Guardian, Independent and the Times—we warn that “spreading misinformation about political opponents is damaging to our democracy” and that the repetition of this claim is “unacceptable” and “deeply disappointing”.
Full Fact first wrote to the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party Chair in September, warning that the 100,000 figure was not reliable because it is based on a number of assumptions about a hypothetical returns agreement, including that the UK would be part of an EU quota system even though it is not in the EU, that the UK would be “forced” to relocate migrants rather than contribute financially (as is an option for EU member states), and that the quota system would relocate all asylum applicants arriving in the EU among member states, which is a misinterpretation of the EU proposal. The charity flagged that Labour has said it will not sign up to an EU quota scheme.
Following a repetition of this claim by the Prime Minister during his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month, 2,700 Full Fact supporters wrote directly to Rishi Sunak, asking him to stop making claims which are not supported by reliable evidence. Just days later, the claim was used in a column in a national newspaper by the Conservative Party Chair, Greg Hands.
Since our letter was featured in the Guardian, the Conservative Party have responded to the article. In their response they said: “100,000 is a conservative estimate of how many the UK would be required to take under any such agreement based on the UK’s population, the European Council’s new solidarity mechanism and the fact that there were 1 million asylum applications in EU countries last year.”
This doesn’t address the issues raised in our letter. Aside from the fact that Labour has said it will not sign up to an EU quota scheme, the Conservative party is ignoring the point made in our fact checks that even if the UK were to participate in the EU scheme, or one operating on a similar basis, their calculation appears to misinterpret what the agreement established in June would involve.
Crucially, under the EU’s solidarity mechanism it will not be mandatory for member countries to accept any relocations—they can choose between accepting relocations or making a financial contribution of €20,000 per relocation they choose not to accept.
And perhaps most significantly, the Conservative analysis assumes the EU solidarity mechanism would see all asylum seekers arriving in the EU relocated across the bloc, even though this is not what the EU’s new agreement appears to indicate.
Glen Tarman, Head of Policy at Full Fact, said, “When Rishi Sunak took office, he promised to lead with honesty and integrity. Politicians shouldn’t need fact checkers to tell them that repeating a misleading claim is not leading with honesty.
“With an election on the horizon, it’s more important than ever that we see accountability and integrity from all political parties. But crucially, we want to see our Prime Minister lead by example. Failing to prioritise trust in politics will only continue to damage our democracy.”
Rt Hon Greg Hands MP, Conservative Party Chair
Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Prime Minister & Leader of the Conservative Party
4 Matthew Parker St
Friday 13 October 2023
Dear Mr Hands and Mr Sunak,
On 21 September we wrote letters to each of you regarding a misleading claim that Labour is pledging to open Britain’s borders to 100,000 more migrants each year. We informed you that this claim was not based on reliable information and asked you not to repeat it.
Spreading misinformation about political opponents is damaging to our democracy and it is important that you stop repeating this claim. Past Full Fact research showed that 9 in 10 members of the public thought it was unacceptable for a politician to repeat claims that have been shown to be misleading.
We are publicly calling on you to show leadership and not initiate or contribute to the spread of misleading claims, including about other political parties.
As elected representatives, you have a duty to voters to lead with honesty. Any claims you make should be based on reliable information. With a general election on the horizon, we want to be reassured that you will do everything possible not to mislead voters.
We informed you that the 100,000 figure was not reliable because it is based on a number of assumptions about a hypothetical returns agreement, including that the UK would be part of an EU quota system even though it is not in the EU, that the UK would be “forced” to relocate migrants rather than contribute financially (as is an option for EU member states), and that the quota system would relocate all asylum applicants arriving in the EU among member states, which is a misinterpretation of the EU proposal. Labour has said it will not sign up to an EU quota scheme.
More than 2,700 people have now written to the Prime Minister to ask that this claim was not repeated. Just days later, it was repeated by the Conservative Party Chair in a national newspaper. This is deeply disappointing. It is vital that political parties ensure claims they make about their opponents are accurate and based on reliable information, particularly when claims such as this have the potential to affect people’s opinions of individuals and parties, and how they choose to vote.
The public are deeply concerned about untruthful behaviours from politicians, as are we. We would be grateful if you’d let us know what action you take in relation to our request.
Interim Chief Executive, Full Fact