Liberal Democrats overstate cost of ministerial severance pay

20 July 2022
What was claimed

Boris Johnson and his ministers who left their government jobs between 5 July and 7 July are entitled to total of £420,000 in severance pay.

Our verdict

This comes from a calculation by the Liberal Democrats, who have since confirmed that it is not correct. The true total is uncertain, but it appears to be around £200,000 less.

“Resigning ministers should hand back £400,000 of redundancy pay”

Liberal Democrats, 7 July 2022.

“Boris Johnson and Tory ministers entitled to total £420,000 severance pay for resigning”

“Boris Johnson and Tory ministers resigning are entitled to £420,000 of severance pay”

“Taxpayer stumps up £423,000 for ministers’ resignation payouts”

Many media outlets reported an estimate, calculated by the Liberal Democrats, that Boris Johnson and the ministers who resigned shortly before him will between them be entitled to around £420,000 of severance pay.

The estimate with an original value of £423,995 appeared in the Independent, the i, Metro, the Times, the Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, and on the Twitter account and website of ITV News.

The estimate was also quoted by the Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq and was shared on Twitter in relation to a petition by Change.org

The Liberal Democrats have since confirmed with Full Fact that this estimate was not correct, and have given us a new, much lower estimate of around £245,000. Our own research suggests that this figure is roughly right.

The Liberal Democrats have used the new figure in a subsequent press release, but it was not clear within the release we’ve seen that they were correcting the previous figure. We’ve not been able to find any examples of the media updating their reports.

The matter was subsequently discussed in Parliament on 11 July, when another Labour MP Fleur Anderson said: “By my reckoning, £250,000 of severance pay will be given to Ministers who have not been reinstated.”

We previously published a preliminary fact check on the problems with the original estimate.

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What did the Lib Dems do?

According to a calculation sent to Full Fact by the Liberal Democrats, 50 MPs resigned from their jobs in government, or were sacked, between 5 July and 7 July, meaning they were entitled to severance payments of one quarter of their annual salary. To this they added the amount Boris Johnson would be entitled to receive in severance when he is expected to resign as Prime Minister.

Combining these payments produced the original total of £423,995 that the Liberal Democrats released to the media.

The original list was not quite complete. A list published by the BBC shows that 60 MPs left their jobs at the time. This includes Michael Gove, who was sacked instead of resigning as Levelling Up Secretary, but doesn’t include Mr Johnson.

The Liberal Democrats used ministerial pay figures listed for 2021/22. We have not been able to find figures for 2022/23, which is the current financial year, but it is possible that ministerial pay has been frozen, as it has been for a number of recent years.   

What was wrong with it?

Not all the jobs on the Liberal Democrats’ list were paid jobs, however. In particular, it included many Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs), who are unpaid, meaning they are not entitled to severance pay when they leave.

One former PPS, Selaine Saxby, criticised the Liberal Democrats for this in Parliament.

And there were other problems with the estimate, because MPs who return to paid jobs within three weeks—such as Will Quince and Guy Opperman—are not entitled to severance payments. 

Some MPs also appeared in the wrong pay grades. For instance, Neil O’Brien and Jo Churchill were listed as Ministers of State, when they were actually Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State, meaning they earned less and would receive a smaller severance payment.

Being entitled to a payment also isn’t quite the same thing as receiving it, because some MPs may choose not to accept the payment. It therefore wasn’t necessarily right that the total entitlement “will lead to a total bill to the taxpayer” of the same amount, as the Liberal Democrats and some of the reports said.  

For instance, Michelle Donelan has decided not to receive her payment following her two-day period as Secretary of State for Education, and other MPs may make the same choice.

What will the cost be?

When we contacted them by email, the Liberal Democrats confirmed that their list was not correct and sent us a different one, which produces a total cost for severance payment entitlements of £245,487.

This list also appears to contain errors. For instance, Mr O’Brien remains in the wrong grade, and Ms Churchill has not been included at all.

However, according to our own estimate—which cannot be precise for a number of reasons, not least because some former ministers could still return to government within three weeks or refuse the money—the total cost of severance payments for this period will probably be between £200,000 and £250,000.

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the Independentthe iMetro, the Times, the Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, and ITV News to request corrections regarding this claim.

The Metro, the Daily Mail, the Mirror, the Times, the i and the Independent corrected their articles.

The Evening Standard, and ITV News did not respond. 

We also contacted Dr Rupa Huq to request a correction regarding this claim, she did not take any action.

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