Twice during February, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn put a plain and direct question to Theresa May about the sudden decision of Surrey County Council not to hold a referendum about a huge council tax increase.
On the first occasion, Corbyn caught May off guard by confronting her with quotes from leaked text messages sent by the Tory leader of the council, David Hodge:
I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that the Chancellor and the Health Secretary both represent Surrey constituencies.
There was a second text from the Surrey County Council leader to “Nick”. It says:
“The numbers you indicated are the numbers I understand are acceptable for me to accept and call off the R”.
I have been reading a bit of John le Carré and apparently “R” means “referendum”—it is very subtle, all this. He goes on to say in his text to “Nick”:
“If it is possible for that info to be sent to myself I can then revert back soonest, really want to kill this off”.
So, how much did the Government offer Surrey to “kill this off”, and is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by this Government?
Mrs May was clearly thrown by this but managed to avoid a flat-out lie by answering a question Corbyn hadn’t asked – at the cost of making herself look completely amateurish – but, crucially, slipped up by allowing her discomfiture to push her into accusing the Labour leader of lying:
I have made clear to the right hon. Gentleman what has been made available to every council, which is the ability to raise the precept…
The right hon. Gentleman comes to the Dispatch Box making all sorts of claims. Yet again, what we get from Labour is alternative facts; what it really needs is an alternative leader.
Two weeks later, Corbyn challenged May again – and this time she did tell an indisputable lie from the off:
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the questions he asked me about Surrey County Council two weeks ago. Those claims were utterly destroyed the same afternoon, so rather than asking the same question, he should stand up and apologise.
Theresa May knew full well that her ‘destroyed’ claim was preposterously untrue – and is now proven to have ‘misled the House’ – a matter of the utmost seriousness.
‘Misleading the House’ refers to deliberately providing false information to the House of Commons (or Lords) and has always been considered a ‘resignation matter’.#
In the 60s, John Profumo resigned after he was found to have lied to the House about his affair with Christine Keeler, the reported mistress of a man believed to be a Soviet spy.
In 2001, Peter Mandelson was forced to resign a second time for misleading the House, while 3 years earlier, Labour Cabinet minister Ron Davies resigned for making misleading statements about his robbery by a man on Clapham Common.
In 2004, Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes was forced to resign for having misled the House by stating that, if she had known about the improper issuing of visas she would have done something about it, when it came to light that she had indeed known.
Now, in 2017, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, when challenged about the Surrey Council ‘sweetheart deal’, both called the Opposition leader a liar and claimed that the allegations about the deal had been destroyed – thereby stating to the House that there had been no such deal.
Like Beverley Hughes, Mrs May’s lies have come back to haunt her, with the publication of a recording of the Surrey Council leader talking about his meeting in a car outside Downing Street with Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communites and Local Government – and of Javid then going into Downing Street to discuss ‘assurances’ with Chancellor Philip Hammond.
The full recording and the 18-second clip of the most crucial words can be heard by clicking the links below:
Assurances or ‘sweetheart deal’ – a turd by any other name will smell as faecal and this one stinks of Big Fat Lie.
This Tory government and the Tory-led coalition that preceded it have shown no hesitation to lie whenever it was convenient, from Hunt on Murdoch to him, Cameron and May lying about NHS spending and statistics even after they were publicly rebuked for it by the UK Statistics Authority.
But enough is enough. Theresa May has been caught telling outright lies to MPs gathered in the House of Commons and she must resign – or forever after be known as the Prime Minister that was not only a liar but didn’t even have the spine to take responsibility when she was caught.
And Jeremy Corbyn must tell her that in unequivocal terms on Wednesday at Prime Ministers’ Questions.
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