Boris in Brexitland: it's time for a lot more honesty

Boris JohnsonReuters

So did Boris lie to the Queen when he advised her to prorogue Parliament? "Absolutely not," he told the BBC after Scotland's highest civil court ruled his advice was unlawful.

But their judgement implied much more than that for in its unanimous ruling, the Court of Session in Edinburgh stated the Prime Minister's decision was motivated by the "improper purpose of stymieing Parliament".

I suppose we will never really know the truth of the matter given the Government's insistence that opposition requests to see e-mails, texts and WhatsApp messages from Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's chief aide, and eight other advisers in Downing Street were "unreasonable and disproportionate".

As I write, I have no idea what the Supreme Court will say about the legality or otherwise of the Government's incendiary decision, but I was more than a little horrified to find reports in the Sunday press of Cummings saying that if the court ruled against the Government, "we could just prorogue again."

Horrified but not surprised. Life in "Brexitland" seems even more "topsy-turvy" than the world Alice discovered when she fell through a rabbit hole and found herself in "Wonderland". I never thought, for example, that I would hear a former Prime Minister accuse two of his former colleagues, one of whom is his successor, of "leaving truth at home" in their pursuit of a Brexit agenda.

I have an inbuilt aversion to "misspeaking," "being economical with the truth," "leaving the truth at home," or any other way you want to put it, even though I am well aware that lying is a very common feature of human discourse. We lie for all sorts of reasons and have always done so. The Psalmist understood this, which is why he said "all men are liars".

Now, I know he goes on to state that this was a bit of a hasty judgement, but experience only goes to show that it was a pretty fair assessment of human behaviour. As psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz said in a recent article in the Financial Times "We all lie, but we don't lie like Donald Trump," adding "Most of us to avoid causing painful feelings in others, and ourselves. Sometimes.... we lie to protect some sense of self."

And yet, in spite of this it seems that we are naturally programmed to start from the premise that people are telling the truth. Bryan Appleyard made this very point in a very helpful review of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Talking to Strangers".

Gladwell recounts a series of fascinating stories that highlight just how easily even the most skilled of interrogators can be fooled. Take the case of Ana Montes, for example. She was "a star of the American Defence Intelligence Agency" but in reality she was a double agent, spying for Castro's regime. She came under suspicion and "the agency's finest were sent to interrogate her". But she was cleared in what Appleyard says was "a catastrophe for the Americans".

So how and why can we get it so wrong? Appleyard says there is a simple answer: we naturally default to the truth. We instinctively believe people, even though this makes us very vulnerable.  This is something Neville Chamberlain discovered when he failed to detect that Hitler was lying through his teeth.

Appleyard suggests that it is "our evolutionary heritage" that "makes us default to the truth" but I would beg to disagree. I would argue that we do it because we have been created in the image of a God who is nothing if not the God of truth. Sadly though, that image is flawed and warped, which is why we find it so easy to default to telling "porky pies" also.

When there is a very real chance that those 'porky pies' could dramatically change our nation's fate, for better or for worse, our leaders in power owe it to the rest of us to leave the lies at home and bring truth to the table.

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.