By the time we get to vote on leaving the EU, you’ll be sick and tired of figures. Unless you’re very unusual, you’ll be subject to the human tendency to confirmation bias. When you see claims that sustain your pre-existing assumptions, you’ll vaguely believe them; when you see claims that challenge your prejudices, you’ll barely register them.
The Remain campaign is plainly going to keep questioning my statistics, and quite right, too. You should consider their critique before deciding who is right. And, of course, the same applies to their statistics.
The ten quotations below are taken from the Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) leaflet sent by post to ten million households. If my experience in debates with EU supporters is anything to go by, we’ll be hearing them again and again before polling day. But repetition doesn’t make them true. Let’s ponder them in turn.
1. “The benefits are worth £3,000 per year to the average household”
Channel 4’s FactCheck has called this figure “fiction”, and with good reason. It comes from a paper by the Brussels-funded CBI. The CBI didn’t base its claim on any research; instead, it arbitrarily picked five estimates, evidently chosen because they gave pro-EU findings, and then plucked a figure from the top end of the range. As FactCheck says, the CBI number is “way more optimistic than most other estimates, and we don’t really know how CBI researchers have arrived at this figure”.
For most UK households, the three largest budget items are food, fuel and tax. All three ought to fall outside the EU. Groceries will be cheaper because we will no longer have to subsidise Continental farmers. Fuel bills will fall without EU rules requiring us to buy more expensive alternative energy. And the £350 million we send to Brussels every week would be enough to give the entire country a 71 per cent council tax rebate.
2. “If we left the EU, the cost of imports [from the EU] would increase by £11 billion”
This claim rests on the idiotic assumption that, outside the EU, Britain would impose tariffs on the other member states. But no one is suggesting such a thing. Even Lord Rose, who heads the pro-EU campaign, accepts that free trade would continue. As Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, our former Ambassador to Brussels, admits: “There is no doubt that the UK could secure a free trade agreement with the EU.”
A pan-European free trade area stretches from non-EU Iceland to non-EU Turkey, covering EU and non-EU states alike. Indeed, since the EU’s association agreements in Moldova and Ukraine came into effect, the only geographically European countries that have chosen to stand aside are Russia and Belarus.
3. “Over 3 million UK jobs are linked to our trade with the EU”
The dishonesty of this claim is staggering. It is based on the same false idea that Britain would stop trading with the EU if it were not a member. Why? No one argues that we have to form a political union with, say, Brazil or Russia in order to do business with those countries.
The economist from whose work the figure was taken, Dr Martin Weale, has called the claim “pure Goebbels”, adding: “In many years of academic research, I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts.”
4. “Countries that want free access to Europe’s market of 500 million have to accept free movement”
Nonsense. To pick a random example, the EU just signed a free trade agreement with Colombia. No one suggested that free movement had to be part of the deal.
Outside the EU, Britain might want to keep a measure of labour mobility with other EU states. But we would recover the ability to decide whom to admit and in what numbers.
5. “Leaving would also mean our border controls move from Calais to Dover”
The reciprocal stationing of UK and French customs officials on both sides of the Channel has nothing to do with the EU. It rests on two bilateral deals between London and Paris: the 1993 Sangatte Protocol and the 2003 Le Touquet Treaty. I explained on CapX last week quite how mendacious this claim is.
6. “Being in the EU means lower prices in our shops”
Au contraire, as we say in Brussels. Being in the EU means being inside the EU’s Common External Tariff, and having to charge duties on imports from non-EU countries – especially on agricultural products, textiles and commodities, precisely the things that Britain sources from outside Europe.
Outside the EU, we would continue to have tariff-free access for EU goods, but we could extend the same deal to non-EU producers, not least the growing economies of the Commonwealth. As well as helping those countries, it would mean that the price of food, clothes and other goods would fall in Britain.
7. “We are an independent nation within the EU”
Of all BSE’s claims, this is perhaps the most shameless. The essence of the EU, the thing that distinguishes it from every other international association, is that its laws take precedence over the laws of its member nations. As Lord Hoffman, the senior judge, put it, “The EU Treaty is the supreme law of this country, taking precedence over Acts of Parliament.”
BSE brazenly says that the idea that Eurocrats “set our laws” is a “myth”. In fact, on everything from what taxes we pay to what we can fish from the sea, from employment law to immigration, we must do as Brussels says.
8. “The UK gets £66 million of investment every day from EU countries”
It’s hard to see how BSE came up with this figure. According to the ONS, investment from other EU states in 2014 was £5.3 billion, or £14.4 million per day – only 19 per cent of total inward investment in Britain, the vast bulk of which now comes from outside the EU.
Europhiles used to claim that investment would dry up if we kept the pound. They were wrong. Then they claimed that it would fall because calling a referendum had created uncertainty. In the event, we have had more inward investment since the referendum was announced than any country in the EU. According to Ernst and Young, 66 per cent of Asian investors and 72 per cent of American investors want Britain to have a looser relationship with the EU.
9. “Being in the EU costs each household less than a pound a day”
The ONS says our gross contribution to the EU is over £50 million a day. That’s enough to build and equip a brand new NHS hospital every week. Enough to wipe out all the austerity savings in the last parliament twice over. BSE is deducting the money spent in this country from the total; but that assumes it is spent on things we would have chosen for ourselves. It’s rather like arguing that basic rate income tax is not 20p in the pound but zero, because the whole sum is “given back” in roads, schools and defence.
10. “We are safer thanks to the European Arrest Warrant”
Tell that to Andrew Symeou, a teenage Briton who was whisked away to Greece in what was very obviously a case of mistaken identity, and spent two years in that country, 11 months of them in prison, waiting for his trial. Or to the parents of my five-year-old constituent Ashya King, detained in Spain under the European Arrest Warrant because they had taken their child out of Southampton Hospital to seek treatment elsewhere.
EU supporters like to claim that the EU is about security, but Brussels rules make it harder for Britain to deport criminals. As the former head of Interpol, Ronald Noble, said recently, the dismantling of European borders has created “effectively an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the Continent and make their escape.”