Politics Live

Full Fact’s rolling blog of fact checks, commentary and analysis.

10 January 2024, 3.50pm

Can you hand back a CBE?

With the Post Office scandal at the top of the political agenda, its former CEO Paula Vennells is widely reported to be handing back her CBE (or Commander of the British Empire award). 

Ms Vennells, who ran the Post Office during the latter part of the Horizon IT crisis, said yesterday she was “aware of the calls from sub-postmasters and others to return my CBE”, and added: “I have listened and I confirm that I return my CBE with immediate effect.” Following this, many media outlets reported she was “handing back” the honour.

However, only the King can remove an honour. Those who choose to renounce an honour voluntarily may stop using it on a day-to-day basis, but still officially retain the honour unless or until it is annulled by the King. 

There’s no indication that that’s happened in Ms Vennells’ case, though if it were to happen it’s unclear if it would be announced officially. When we asked the Cabinet Office about the current status of Ms Vennells’ award, it only referred us to its web page on the forfeiture of honours.

That states: “An honour can only be forfeited by the decision of His Majesty. However, an individual may decide to renounce their honour voluntarily and take the practical steps required of those that have forfeited.”

These steps include returning any insignia to Buckingham Palace and no longer making any reference to their having an honour.

The Cabinet Office adds: “They would still hold the honour unless or until HM King annulled it. Their decision [to forgo the honour] would not be publicised by the Cabinet Office and they would continue to be able to describe themself as holding an honour.”

According to the House of Commons Library: “There is no official method for renouncing an honour, after it has been accepted and awarded. Any such action is always unofficial, and the record of the appointment in the London Gazette stands. 

“The physical insignia can be returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. But this act is purely symbolic, as replacement insignia may be purchased for a nominal sum.”

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9 January 2024, 5.06pm

Higher or lower? Contrasting tax claims from Sunak and Reeves

This past weekend saw the government’s changes to National Insurance contributions (NICs) take effect, reducing the main rate of NICs from 12% to 10%.

We’ve looked into some contrasting claims about their impact, made by the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves.

Mr Sunak has claimed that the NICs reduction is worth £450 to the average worker. This is true, but lacks some important context. 

Someone with the average full-time annual earnings will pay around £450 less in NICs this year than if the rate had remained the same. But as the Institute for Fiscal Studies says, when threshold freezes are taken into account, someone on the average salary will save much less, and workers will pay more tax in the long term.

Meanwhile, Ms Reeves claimed that “this year an average working family is going to be paying £1,200 more in tax” as a result of tax changes implemented by the government.

This is not correct, and Labour has confirmed that Ms Reeves ‘misspoke’.

The £1,200 figure refers to an estimate from the Resolution Foundation think tank, which said following the Autumn Statement in November that the combined effect of threshold freezes and cuts to NI would result in ”a net personal tax rise of around £1,200 per household” by 2028/29, not this year, as Ms Reeves claimed.

4 January 2024, 6.14pm

Sir Keir Starmer makes claims about immigration and tax following New Year speech

While answering questions from the media following his New Year speech earlier today, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made a couple of claims about the government’s record which we’ve been looking at.

Firstly, Mr Starmer claimed that “of all those that arrived by small boats in the last year or so, only 1%, or less than 1%, actually had their claims processed”. This appears to be broadly correct, though Labour hasn’t confirmed what figures his comments were based on.

The most recent government data showing the outcome of asylum claims by small boat arrivals covers the period from July 2022 to May 2023. Over this period there were 40,386 small boat arrivals, of whom 36,169 (approximately 90%) applied for asylum.

Of the 32,242 applications made (the number of applications is lower than the number of people who applied for asylum as some applications involve more than one person), only 360 received an initial decision.Assuming by “claims processed” Mr Starmer was referring to applications receiving an initial decision, then his 1% figure looks about right—though the exact number depends on whether you look at the proportion of applications made, or of the total number of small boat arrivals.

We can’t say how these figures may have changed since this data was published—statistics covering the year to December 2023 are set to be released next month.

Mr Starmer also claimed that “we’ve got a higher tax burden now than at any time since the Second World War”. 

The phrase “tax burden” refers to tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). 

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the UK’s tax burden in 2023-24 is currently estimated to be broadly at the same level as its post-war peak in the late 1940s. But forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which consider the impact of tax changes which have been announced but haven’t yet come into effect, predict the burden will rise further “to a post-war high of 37.7 percent of GDP by 2028-29”.

4 January 2024, 4.56pm

Government’s claim to have cut waiting lists is potentially misleading

A reader drew our attention to an article about NHS England waiting lists in today’s Times, in which a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “Cutting waiting lists is one of the government’s top five priorities, and despite the impact of strikes, we have cut the total waiting list and the number of individual patients waiting for treatment.”

This is seriously missing context. It’s true that the number of cases and patients waiting for treatment fell slightly in the latest data, for October 2023. The DHSC confirmed to Full Fact that this is what the spokesperson was referring to.

However, this came at the end of a long series of rises, which leaves the numbers much higher than they were a year ago today, when the five priorities were announced.

Between the end of December 2022, which is the closest point before the announcement, and the end of October 2023, which is the latest data available, the estimated number of people on the waiting list rose by around ​​384,000, and the number of cases by about 506,000. (Some people are waiting for more than one thing.) 

In this context, it is potentially misleading to say the government “have cut” the waiting lists—even though they did fall by 54,000 people and 66,000 cases between September and October.

We wrote a more detailed article about the different kinds of waiting lists last June.

4 January 2024, 4.03pm

Conservative party chair repeats misleading claim about Labour’s immigration plans

In a column published in the Daily Express on 27 December (also online) Conservative party chair Richard Holden wrote: “Labour’s so-called ‘plans’ to stop the boats include accepting a share of illegal migrants from safe EU countries through the back-door, which would see Britain take in 100,000 extra illegal migrants, already in Europe, every single year.”

We’ve written about this figure several times over recent months. As our full fact check explains, it’s based on a Conservative party calculation that is inaccurate.

Madeleine Sumption, director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, told us: “The claim that a returns deal with the EU would mean the UK accepting 100,000 asylum seekers from Europe is incorrect: there are no two ways about it.”

Sir Keir Starmer has previously said Labour would seek a returns deal with the EU, but hasn’t said the number of migrants it might involve. The party has also explicitly said it would not join the quota deal with the EU on which the Conservatives based their calculation.

We’ve written to the Conservative party and various government ministers a number of times asking them not to repeat this figure.

4 January 2024, 11.27am

Immigration stats front and centre as politics returns

It may be a new year, but 2024 kicked off with a topic that dominated politics in 2023: immigration. In a post on X (formerly Twitter), the Prime Minister claimed that the government had successfully cleared the “asylum backlog”.

As we explain in our new fact check, this is misleading.

Mr Sunak’s claim actually relates to the “legacy backlog”, a specific subsection of the total number of outstanding asylum cases which the government pledged to clear by the end of 2023.

The government says all of these cases have now been processed and most—though not all—have been resolved. As of 28 December 2023, around 4,500 “legacy backlog” applications were still awaiting an initial decision, down from around 92,000 last year when the Prime Minister first set out the government’s plan to clear the backlog.

The overall asylum backlog, however, still stands at almost 100,000 cases.

22 December 2023, 4.10pm

A break from blogging over Christmas

We’ve enjoyed trialling Full Fact’s politics blog in the last few weeks, and as always we’re interested to hear feedback

Our politics coverage will be taking a break over Christmas, but we’ll be looking to pick it up again in the new year. Watch this space for more fact checking of politicians’ claims, coverage of big political events such as Prime Minister’s Questions, insights into our fact checking process and to look ahead to the general election. 

In the meantime we wish our readers a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

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21 December 2023, 1.53pm

Keir Starmer has not said he wants to sign up to new EU quota scheme on migrant relocations

In a post on X (formerly Twitter) yesterday, the home secretary James Cleverly claimed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer “wants to join” a recently agreed EU pact which includes a scheme for the relocation of some asylum seekers across member states. Mr Cleverly’s comments have also been reported by the Express and MailOnline.

As we’ve previously explained, Mr Starmer did say in September that he would ultimately seek a migrant returns deal with the EU, which could potentially involve the UK agreeing to take some asylum seekers from the EU. However, Labour has repeatedly ruled out joining the quota agreement referenced by Mr Cleverly, and given the UK is no longer in the EU, it’s unclear how this would even be possible.

We don’t know how many migrants the UK might take under a future returns deal with the EU—Labour has not said what such a deal would involve, or how many migrants it would accept.

The Conservatives have repeatedly made misleading claims about Labour’s plans for migration in recent months, which we’ve written about on multiple occasions.

We’ve contacted Mr Cleverly’s office about his comments and will update this post if we get a response.

19 December 2023, 5.07pm

Prime Minister corrects parliamentary record after Full Fact intervention

Full Fact is pleased to have secured our first correction from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 

At Prime Minister’s Questions last month, Mr Sunak said there are “200,000 people employed in Scotland’s North Sea oil and gas industry”. 

However, as we pointed out at the time, this figure refers to the number of people employed in the sector across the entirety of the UK. In Scotland, around 96,000 jobs are supported by oil and gas. 

After this exchange we wrote to Mr Sunak to ask him to correct the record.

Mr Sunak has since acknowledged his error and submitted a letter of correction to Hansard. 

He said: “An error has been identified in my answer to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) in Prime Minister’s Questions”, and provided an updated and corrected answer, in which he states there are “200,000 people employed in the UK’s North sea oil and gas industry”. 

We’d like to thank Mr Sunak for his correction.

19 December 2023, 3.30pm

Was the UK the first country to send main battle tanks to Ukraine?

At the Liaison Committee today, the Prime Minister twice claimed the UK was the “first country” to provide main battle tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine. 

This appears to be incorrect. Mr Sunak has made similar claims before, which we’ve written about here

The Czech Republic reportedly sent T-72 MBTs in April 2022, while Poland reportedly sent PT-91 MBTs in the summer of 2022. 

Modern Leopard 2 MBTs from Poland and Norway reportedly arrived in Ukraine in February and March 2023, shortly ahead of a set of British Challenger 2 MBTs which arrived at the end of that month. 

However, the UK was arguably the first country to confirm it was sending Western tanks to Ukraine.

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