Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s use of pens with erasable ink has sparked concerns over government transparency. Critics suggest these pens could enable the removal of important notes from official documents, challenging historical accountability.
R ishi Sunak has been spotted using pens with erasable ink in government meetings and while signing official documents, raising eyebrows about Downing Street’s transparency once again.
The Prime Minister has often been photographed with a Pilot V fountain pen using erasable ink that allows users to erase any errors they make.
A Pilot V Pen similar to the one Rishi Sunak uses. | CREDIT: AMAZON
However, critics have expressed concerns that the use of such pens could potentially lead to crucial handwritten notes being erased from official documents, thereby impeding future investigations into governmental actions, such as the COVID Public Inquiry or the Privileges Committee’s investigation into whether Boris Johnson misled parliament with Partygate.
Indeed, since becoming Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has been photographed on several occasions at Cabinet meetings using pens that contain erasable ink.
Downing Street has defended the use of pens with erasable ink, stating that they are supplied by the civil service and frequently used throughout Whitehall. They also emphasised that Sunak has been seen using standard pens with permanent ink to sign official documents.
“This is a pen provided by and used widely by the civil service. The prime minister has never used the erase function and nor would he.”
It is reassuring to know that the Prime Minister has neither used nor would “ever use the erasing function” of the pen. [sic]
However, numerous photographs on Number 10’s social media Flickr account clearly show Rishi Sunak signing official documents with Pilot V fountain pens which use erasable ink on multiple occasions, including during a visit to the White House.
Numerous photographs also show Sunak, in his former role as Chancellor, using the same Pilot V pen with erasable ink to sign economic agreements with various countries, including India and Brazil, a bilateral financial services agreement with Switzerland, and a memorandum of understanding with Singapore.
Does the use of erasable ink call into question the validity of these official documents and agreements, given the potential for the ink to disappear?
The historical importance of handwritten notes
Historically, the handwritten notes of British prime ministers have proven invaluable for historians studying pivotal moments in the nation’s history. For instance, Margaret Thatcher’s handwritten notes later revealed her strategies during the miners’ strike and the Falklands invasion.
Unlike Rishi Sunak, former prime ministers have consistently signed official documents using permanent ink, including David Cameron, Theresa May, and even Boris Johnson.
US presidents also traditionally use pens with permanent ink to ensure their words aren’t erased or damaged over time. This practice ensures a clear record of their decisions and actions.
For example, during his tenure as President, Donald Trump was well-known for using pens with permanent black ink to guarantee that his signature would stand out clearly in photographs and on TV.
Accusations of evasion
Concerns surrounding the use of erasable ink arise amidst broader critiques of Rishi Sunak’s government transparency records.
Downing Street recently encountered significant criticism for attempting to prevent the COVID Public Inquiry from accessing government WhatsApp messages.
The Conservative government has also been accused by critics of promoting a “culture of concealment” following its obstruction of an unprecedented number of freedom of information requests.
Tom Brake, director of Unlock Democracy, said:
“When trust in politicians is at an all-time low, the PM signing official documents in erasable ink could push it through the floor and into the basement.
“Erasable ink, lost mobile phones and disappearing WhatsApp messages all add to a picture of a cavalier attitude towards ensuring government is accountable for its actions.”
A Labour source added:
“We already know Rishi Sunak is addicted to evasion, whether he’s hiding WhatsApp messages from the Covid inquiry or still refusing to disclose his full tax affairs, so no wonder people are going to be curious about his choice of these pens.
“But no amount of erasable ink can cover up his dismal record of failure and broken promises as chancellor and as prime minister.”
Whilst the use of pens with erasable ink might appear insignificant, it has sparked a wider discussion about governmental transparency, irrespective of Boris Johnson and his habit of lying to the nation having departed from both government and parliament.
As we transition from the Johnson era and approach the next general election, it will be of utmost importance to ensure clear and honest communication between our leaders and the public.
▪ Text: This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 28 June 2023.
▪ Cover: Flickr/Number 10. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)