Boris Johnson and dodgy use of statistics: A wake-up call?

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While Theresa May has distanced herself from foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s renewed claim that up to £350m a week extra should be made available for the NHS after Brexit, the UK Statistics chief Sir David Norgrove has publically pulled up the foreign secretary in a letter stating he was “surprised and disappointed” to see the foreign secretary restate the controversial claim, triggering a war of words between the two.

This weekend, Johnson wrote a 4,000-word article in the Daily Telegraph where he used tactics of “back seat driving” and repeated the controversial £350m figure to set out his personal vision of Brexit. Johnson wrote how “we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week… It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

Hitting back at the foreign secretary, Sir David wrote in an article that he is “surprised and disappointed” by the repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.

His letter continued: “It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave. It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”

In a strongly worded letter, Johnson accused the Statistics chief of “wilful distortion of the text of my article” and demanded it be withdrawn.

The Johnson affair, has drawn flak from some Cabinet colleagues with one accusing the foreign secretary of an unhelpful move that placed “personal ambition ahead before the interests of the country”. They said that he cared more about meeting the “discredited promises of the leave campaign” than delivering the best Brexit for Britain after the article was published without Downing Street’s agreement.

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood also criticised this “party discord” and tweeted: “We are not witnessing our finest hour-at a testing time when poise, purpose and unity are called for.”

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