During his resignation speech to the House of Commons, Alexander Johnson MP (better known as ‘Boris’) claimed that the pound “soared” after the Prime Minister Theresa May gave her speech in Lancaster House.

This claim is accurate, and was reported in those terms on the day itself.

In short

Sterling did rise: During 17th January 2017, the value of sterling rose relative to other currencies, in response to the Prime Minister’s speech.

Bouncing back: Sterling was trading at that level (around $1.24 versus the US dollar) earlier in January.

The Press Association is citing daily highs: It is true that the pound was trading at $1.24 on 17th January at its highest, and $1.23 the day after.

What was actually said

The former Foreign Secretary gave a personal statement to the House:

Even though our friends and partners liked the Lancaster House vision — it was what they were expecting from an ambitious partner, what they understood — and even though the commentators and the markets liked it — the pound soared, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have observed — we never actually turned that vision into a negotiating position in Brussels.

Validating this claim about the pound is a simple matter of checking the currency exchange rates on Tuesday 17th January 2017, when the Prime Minister gave that speech at Lancaster House.

We can look back in time at the Daily FX chart:

The graph shows the GBP-USD exchange rate, with hourly timings given in the New York timezone.

Versus the dollar, sterling rose from $1.20 to $1.24 by the end of day. A similar chart was provided on the Order Order website.

Sterling had previously been at that value earlier in January.

We can also look back at reports on the day itself, such as from The Guardian:

What is the Press Association saying then?

Ian Jones of the Press Association stated on Twitter that:

Value of pound on day of speech (Jan 17 2017): $1.24. Value of pound on day after: $1.23.

What Mr Jones is calling the “value” of the pound is actually its highest rate on that day, about $1.24 when looking at the GBP-USD exchange rate.

Precision is indeed important.

Citing the highest value on a specific day is not relevant to the claim that the value rose during that day.

Journalists, commentators and politicians should be aware of what the figures they are citing mean, and be precise when making statistical claims.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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