Politics Live

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

18 January 2024, 12.27pm

Kigali is the capital of Rwanda

During a debate on the government’s Safety of Rwanda Bill yesterday, the Conservative MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Thérèse Coffey said of Labour’s Yvette Cooper MP: “I was somewhat astonished by the speech of the shadow home secretary, who cannot even get the name of the country right, talking about the Kigali Government when we are talking about Rwanda—a respected country that has recently been president of the Commonwealth.”

Kigali is however the capital of Rwanda.

After we first published this post, Dr Coffey’s office told Full Fact that she “didn’t mix anything up at all”, and said that Ms Cooper should have referred to the Rwandan government rather than the Kigali Government, adding: “We would not call the French government the Paris government. We would not call the US government the Washington DC government.”

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17 January 2024, 2.01pm

Conservative party deputy chairs’ resignation letter repeats misleading ‘100,000 migrants’ claim

In a joint letter to the Prime Minister resigning from their roles as deputy chairmen of the Conservative party, Lee Anderson MP and Brendan Clarke-Smith MP repeated the misleading claim that a Labour government would “bring around 100,000 extra asylum seekers as part of a deal with the European Union”.

We’ve contacted both MPs about this figure. Mr Clarke-Smith confirmed that it is based on Conservative party analysis we’ve written about numerous times in recent months, and found to be inaccurate.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has previously said Labour would seek a returns agreement with the EU, but there’s no reliable way of knowing the number of migrants it might involve, and the party has said it has no plans to join the EU agreement on which the Conservative analysis is based. 

Even if the UK were to participate in the EU agreement, or one operating on a similar basis, the Conservative calculation misinterprets what the agreement established in June last year would involve. 

Oxford University’s Migration Observatory has also 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.”

We’ve seen different variations of this claim made at least 15 times in recent months, and have previously written to the Prime Minister, the Conservative party and several of its MPs—including Mr Anderson on a previous occasion—asking them to stop using this figure, but have received no response.

15 January 2024, 4.27pm

Lib Dem campaign leaflet misleadingly attributes pro-Lib Dem quote to the Guardian

Thanks to a Full Fact supporter who received a leaflet in the mail from the Liberal Democrats and passed it on to us, we’ve identified a misleading quote used by the party

In the leaflet received by our supporter at the start of the month, the Lib Dems attributed a quote, “Voters in south-west England know—it’s the Lib Dems who can get the Tories out”, to the Guardian. 

It’s true these words were published by the Guardian, but they don’t come from a Guardian news report, analysis or editorial, as those reading the leaflet might assume. The quote was the headline of a first-person opinion piece written by Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey. The Guardian told us: “This is not a Guardian quote.”

Ahead of the election, we’re asking political parties to pledge not to use deceptive campaign practices. Over 12,000 people have already signed our petition on this—you can add your name here

10 January 2024, 5.43pm

The first PMQs of 2024

Today saw the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the year. As always, Full Fact listened to proceedings, and today we heard a few claims that we’ve looked into before.

First, the Prime Minister claimed that “Italy, Germany and Austria [are] all looking at similar schemes” to the UK as a “deterrent” against migration.

A similar claim was made previously by home secretary James Cleverly, who said in November last year that “Italy, Germany and Austria are all exploring models similar to our partnership with Rwanda”.

As we wrote at the time, of these countries only Italy has announced an agreement to relocate asylum seekers in a different country, and it has significant differences to the UK’s Rwanda policy. (For example, unlike with the UK’s scheme, asylum seekers would still have their claim processed by Italy, and be transferred back to Italy if their claim is approved.) 

Austria and Germany meanwhile have both said they would explore the possibility of sending asylum seekers to third countries, but neither appears to have agreed to any specific proposals.

Secondly, responding to a question from Labour MP Rushanara Ali about the humanitarian situation in Israel and Gaza, Mr Sunak said: “We are also deeply concerned about the impact on civilian population in Gaza. That’s why we’ve trebled the amount of aid that we provide to the region.”

According to the House of Commons Library, the UK has committed £87 million in aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) in 2023-24. Before the outbreak of conflict on 7 October, this figure was £27 million, so it’s fair to say the £60 million of subsequent funding has tripled the initial spending commitment.

However, it’s worth noting that even with this increase the UK’s aid commitments to the OPTs are less than they were a few years ago—in 2020/21, £93.8 million in aid was given, after a peak of £107.2 million in 2019/20. We wrote about a similar claim in November. 

Mr Sunak also said the government had cut the taxes of an “average person in work” by £450. As the fact check we published yesterday explains, this is true of recent changes to National Insurance, but misses important context about wider tax changes. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, someone on average full-time earnings will gain only around £130 more from the NI cut than they lose from this April’s tax threshold freeze, and is set to pay more tax overall in the long term. 

Finally, the PM also said that NHS workers including “consultants and specialty doctors” have “reached a fair and reasonable pay settlement with the government”. Our fact check yesterday showed that this is potentially misleading. Both consultants and specialty and specialist doctors are currently voting on whether to accept a recent offer which their union leaders have negotiated with the government. If either group rejects the offer, they have a mandate to continue strike action.

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.”

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”.

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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.

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