We shouldn’t be surprised Boris Johnson is backing Brexit. In his Telegraph column, the Mayor of London fondly reminisces about his past work in Brussels, where he “informed” readers about euro-condoms and “the great war” against prawn cocktail crisps. In other words, Boris has form for getting his EU facts wrong.
Boris repeats old mistakes
Take the euro-condom saga of the 1990s. The bickering over the exact dimensions for prophylactic devices took place in the European Standardisation Committee, which is not an EU organ. Whether member states follow its rules is voluntary.
Similarly, while Boris warned the EU was coming for your prawn cocktail crisps donkeys years ago, they are still in stores today. What actually happened was that the EU wanted a harmonised list of safe quantities of food additives, allowing food to be sold freely between member states.
When the EU started drafting a directive on the topic, governments were asked to provide a list of flavourings already in use. The UK neglected to mention an ingredient used in prawn cocktail crisps. But when the lacuna was spotted, it amended the list and so there was no problem. It is a stretch to describe an oversight on the UK’s part as a “great war”.
Ludicrous rules that don’t exist and aren’t permanent
Boris says many EU rules “sound simply ludicrous”, pointing to a several examples that do sound ludicrous but don’t actually exist. Contrary to his assertion, Britons are at absolute liberty to recycle teabags. They can throw them into the green waste bin with abandon. Similarly, there are no EU rules banning children under eight blowing up balloons.
Nor is it true, as Boris argued, that once a ridiculous rule is put in place there’s no way of getting rid of it. The mayor says the EU hasn’t taken back any legislation under its programmes for streamlining bureaucracy. It has actually scrapped 6,145 legal acts between 2005 and mid-2014 – albeit not all of them as part of its streamlining programme.
Product standards exist to help the single market
Boris says that there was “nothing we could do” in 2013 to bring in better designed cabs for lorries as the French were opposed. The truth is that this proposal was adopted in 2015 after the council voted unanimously for it. Better designed cabs, that should lead to fewer cyclist deaths, will be on offer from 2020.
The big point Boris misses is that common standards exist to encourage the single market. For example, if countries had different rules on lorry cabs, a vehicle legal in Britain might not be legal in France — and lorries with their goods wouldn’t be able to circulate freely across the continent. Meanwhile, if there were different rules on food flavourings, prawn cocktail crisps made in the UK couldn’t be sold in Germany. While individual standards can sound silly, they provide certainty for consumers, and a level playing field for producers.
Johnson’s office was approached for comment, but we received no response prior to publication.
Edited by Hugo Dixon