PM claims £350m figure on side of Brexit bus was actually 'a slight underestimate'

7 July 2021, 17:07 | Updated: 7 July 2021, 17:09

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has claimed that the £350 million figure on the side of the Vote Leave bus during the Brexit campaign was actually "a slight underestimate".

Responding to a grilling by MPs at the Commons Liaison Committee, the prime minister was asked whether he believed ministers should correct the record if they lie.

"Of course," he told Labour's Chris Bryant, who went on to accuse Mr Johnson of "very rarely" doing so.

"Why is that?" the MP for Rhondda asked, adding that there are "plenty of incidences" where the PM's "precise words... have not been the full and accurate version of events".

The UK leader then gave a Brexit-related example of what he believed Mr Bryant was alluding to.

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Boris Johnson claimed the figure on the side of the Brexit bus could now be much higher
Boris Johnson claimed the figure on the side of the Brexit bus could now be much higher. Picture: Getty / UK Parliament

"It is commonly asserted, for instance, that when we put the figure of £350 million a week on the side of a bus that went around this country, causing a great deal of hoo-ha, that that was erroneous and that it did not reflect the true figure," he said.

"That's probably one of the things you're thinking of isn't it Mr Bryant?"

"No, I'm thinking did you sack Matt Hancock?" the Labour MP responded.

The PM replied: "Let me continue with this point," before Mr Bryant swiftly interjected with: "Did you sack Matt Hancock?"

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Mr Johnson then chose to ignore the grilling, instead reverting back to his example about the £350 million on the side of the Brexit bus.

"This was a figure that related to the gross sum that the UK gave to the EU budget. It was subject to lively controversy during the referendum campaign five years ago as you'll remember," he said.

"Actually, it turned out, if anything, to be a slight underestimate and by this year the gross figure will be considerably higher."

Unimpressed with his response, Mr Bryant once again asked the prime minister whether he sacked the former health secretary.

He replied: "On your question about Mr Hancock... let me just go back to what I said many, many times... which was that we read the story concerning Mr Hancock and CCTV and so forth on the Friday, and we had a new health secretary on the Saturday.

"Considering that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and it's quite a thing to move a health secretary Mr Bryant, I think that's quite fast going, if I may say so, and that's all I have to say on that matter."

Mr Bryant then once more tried asking the PM whether he sacked the former health secretary, however he was told by the committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin that he had used up his allotted time.