Fake Boris Johnson quote spreads on Facebook

10 October 2019
What was claimed

Boris Johnson said his party has “wiped out the national debt”.

Our verdict

There is no evidence he said this.

What was claimed

The Conservatives nearly doubled the debt from £950 billion to £1.8 trillion.

Our verdict

Broadly correct. Government debt currently stands at just below £1.8 trillion, which is 81% of GDP. In May 2010 when the Conservatives came to office, it was worth just over £1 trillion or 64% of GDP.

A Facebook post shared an image of a tweet, which claims that Boris Johnson “just said” that his party had “wiped out the national debt”. The tweet comments that “they nearly doubled it from £950b to £1.8tr”. Both the Facebook post and the tweet were from 2 October. The Facebook post has been shared over 650 times and the tweet several thousand times.

The figures about the size of the UK’s debt are roughly correct. It stands at £1.8 trillion (81% of GDP) today compared to just over £1 trillion (64% of GDP) in May 2010.

However, there’s no evidence that Mr Johnson actually said his party had wiped out the national debt.

The tweet was posted after Boris Johnson’s speech at Conservative party conference last week. We also saw other very similar claims emerge on Twitter on the same day.

The supposed quote about having “wiped out the national debt” is not in the pre-released draft of Mr Johnson’s conference speech. And we’ve reviewed subtitles of the speech itself, using Full Fact’s internal technology, which also show no mention of this claim.

Boris Johnson did say “it was this Conservative government that tackled the debt and the deficit left by the last Labour government”. But this is not the same thing as saying the Conservatives have “wiped out the national debt”.

In theory it’s possible that Mr Johnson made the claim somewhere other than during his keynote conference speech. But we’ve seen no evidence for that either.

There are only a handful of tweets which report Mr Johnson as saying his party has “wiped out the national debt”, and none are from journalists who were at the conference.

Additionally, Googling the phrase “wiped out the national debt” returns the same few tweets and no evidence Mr Johnson has ever used those words. The quote has also been attributed to Mr Johnson in a Daily Express article, and we’ve asked the Express to amend this.

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Since 2010 the debt has increased and the deficit has decreased

Although the claim attributed to Mr Johnson seems to have been fabricated, it’s worth examining what he did say in more detail.

He stated that “it was this Conservative government that tackled the debt and the deficit”. Government debt is the total amount of money the government owes from its borrowing over the years plus interest payments.

The deficit is effectively how much the government has borrowed each year.

Since 2010/11 (when the Conservatives came back into office as part of the Coalition government) the deficit has fallen in all but one year, which in turn means that the national debt has continued to grow, but at a slower rate. Whether you consider this to mean the government has “tackled the debt and deficit” is a matter of interpretation.

We’ve looked at the numbers is more detail here.

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