The misleading of parliament greatly troubles the public: something should be done

The recent case of Boris Johnson, now referred to the Committee of Privileges, highlighted perceived problems in handling allegations of MPs misleading the House of Commons. Meanwhile, Constitution Unit research shows that the public want tough sanctions for such behaviour. Meg Russell summarises these findings, in the context of the Johnson inquiry, and a parallel inquiry by the Commons Procedure Committee on correcting the record – arguing that serious consideration should be given to tightening the rules.

Recent context

Concerns about the truthfulness of politicians are nothing new. Indeed, historically politicians may often have been subject to unfair criticism in this area. Within parliament, and particularly with respect to ministers, there is a strong expectation that members should tell the truth. The December 2022 edition of the Ministerial Code states in its very first article (as did its predecessors) that:

It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.

Within parliament, this matter is in theory handled equally seriously. Erskine May states that ‘The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt’. As such, this behaviour may be referred to the Committee of Privileges for investigation leading to possible punishment.

These matters reached prominence under the premiership of Boris Johnson, who was frequently accused – by MPs and others – of misleading parliament. Things came to a head over statements that he had made about ‘partygate’ (the holding of social gatherings in 10 Downing Street during the COVID-19 lockdowns), which ultimately resulted in Johnson being referred to the Committee of Privileges. It is currently undertaking an investigation. Aside from the allegations themselves, controversy has reached the news over Johnson submitting a legal opinion to the committee questioning its processes, and over his legal advice being funded by the public purse. Hearings by the committee are expected in due course, with a report later this year.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons Procedure Committee is conducting a parallel inquiry which also addresses handling of misleading statements to parliament, with a focus on ‘correcting the record’. Unlike the Committee of Privileges, the Procedure Committee has invited evidence on general issues, rather than a single case, and it exists to propose changes to Commons procedures. Understandably, therefore, it has attracted evidence from those concerned about recent events.

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Referendum polling in the UK has historically overstated support for change


The differing outcomes produced by online and telephone polling during the EU referendum have led to a debate about the merits of each method. But perhaps neither is a good indicator of the final outcome. Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick suggest that there is often a trend towards the status quo during referendum campaigns in the UK, and that even polls in the final week before a referendum have often shown more support for change than the result.

As online and telephone polls for the EU referendum continue to tell different stories about the contest, there is increasing debate about the relative merits of each method (e.g. here, here and here). Much of this debate is focused on which of the two modes is more accurate. Does Remain have a comfortable lead, as phone polls suggest, or is it too close to call, as the online polls indicate?

Perhaps neither is a good guide to the final outcome. In this post we reflect on the historical experience of polls for referendums in the UK. The graph shows the levels of support for the change option (excluding don’t knows) in polls and the final outcome for all ten referendums in the UK for which there was more than one poll in the final 30 days of the campaign.

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EU referendum forecast update: 79 per cent chance of Remain winning


Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick have developed a method for forecasting the outcome of the EU referendum based on current vote intention polling and analysis of opinion polling from previous referendums in the UK and across Europe. Since the last update two weeks ago the probability of a Remain win has increased from 72 per cent to 79 per cent.

There has been a small shift towards Remain in the polls over the last two weeks. Excluding don’t knows, our polling average for Remain has moved from 52 per cent on 10th May to 53 per cent now. This figure is based on the most recent polls from each of seven companies: one from each but two from ICM (one by phone and one conducted online). The Remain share has been adjusted down by 2.15 points for telephone polls and up by the same amount for online polls to account for the relatively stable gap between these different methods in the levels of support they tend to give the two sides.

Using the historical experience of referendum polls and referendum outcomes in the UK and on the EU elsewhere, as discussed here, our latest forecast is for Remain to win 55 per cent of the vote in a month’s time. The 95 per cent prediction interval surrounding this estimate has narrowed very slightly to ±12.5 points. So we are forecasting that Remain will win between 43 per cent and 68 per cent of the vote.

Values closer to the middle of this range are more likely. Overall the probability that the Remain vote will be larger than the Leave vote is now 79 per cent, up from 72 per cent two weeks ago.

This post was originally published on Elections Etc. and is re-posted with permission.

About the authors

Dr Stephen Fisher is an Associate Professor in Political Sociology and the Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Trinity College, Oxford.

Dr Alan Renwick is the Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit.