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UK government's media tactics clash with parliamentary tradition

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By Reuters
UK government's media tactics clash with parliamentary tradition
UK government's media tactics clash with parliamentary tradition   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

LONDON – The speaker of Britain’s House of Commons chided the government on Monday for releasing chunks of its upcoming budget to the media before announcing it to lawmakers, suggesting ministers should resign over the affront.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his budget speech to parliament on Wednesday, but his ministry has issued a dozen press releases with cherry-picked details since Friday, a carefully orchestrated strategy that angered Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

“At one time ministers did the right thing if they briefed (the media) before a budget. They walked … they resigned,” a visibly furious Hoyle said in the chamber.

In 1947, then-finance minister Hugh Dalton stepped down after it emerged he had revealed some details of his budget to a journalist.

“Seems to me we’ve got ourselves in a position that if you have not got it out five days before, it’s not worth putting out,” said Hoyle.

Britain’s ministerial code, the government rulebook on conduct and transparency, says that the most important policy announcements should be made in parliament first.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government says it adheres to this principle, but in practice it has become more and more common for crucial policy decisions to appear first in the news media.

Hoyle retaliated on Monday by granting a lawmaker a so-called “urgent question” on one of the pre-budget announcements. Such questions force ministers to the chamber to answer them and use up valuable parliamentary time.

After a similar government transgression last week, Hoyle warned that if ministers continued to brief the media before the House of Commons, “we will see more urgent questions and government business will get blocked”.

Asked about Hoyle’s latest criticism, Johnson’s spokesman said: “We recognise the importance of keeping parliament and the public informed when decisions are taken.”