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Seven errors Boris made in his latest speech

by Luke Lythgoe | 11.03.2016

Billed as his first major speech on the EU since backing Brexit, Boris Johnson warned Britons not to be “cowed by the gloomadon poppers” – referring to the pessimistic pronouncements on Brexit by the Remain campaign. But as is often the case, the Mayor of London did not let facts get in the way of his characteristic colourful language.

His speech delivered at a Europa warehouse in Dartford, Kent repeated several Leave campaign myths. InFacts looks at seven of them.

1. “Brussels is producing between a half, according to the House of Commons, or some say two-thirds of everything that goes through Parliament.”

Trying to calculate the proportion of UK law which comes from the EU is a fool’s game, which is why the Remain camp estimates low and Brexiteers tend to shoot high. The most recent House of Commons report puts the figure at 13.2%, but a different calculation can easily put it at about two thirds. Very little of this legislation actually goes through Parliament.

2. The EU has rules on “how old a child has to be before he or she can blow up a balloon”.

This euromyth dates back to 2011. The European Commission then issued an emergency press release saying the regulation merely recommends adult supervision and emphasised that under-eights were not banned from inflating balloons.

3. “They restrict our ability to deport criminals and people who are a threat to the security of this country.”

This allegation centres on the case of a Moroccan woman in the UK, a convicted criminal, but also mother of a young child who has British nationality. The protection of children is part of UK law independently of EU law. But in the case of a risk to public security she can be deported anyway.

4. The UK gives the EU “£20bn per year, half of which [it] spends in our own country. Brussels bureaucrats deciding how to spend UK taxpayers’ money in the UK.”

This is another version of the incorrect claim that Britain sends Brussels £55 million per day, or £350 million per week. In 2015 Britain’s EU budget contribution was £17.8 billion. But £4.9 billion of that was Britain’s rebate, which is not sent to Brussels.

Boris is right that roughly half of the remaining £12.9 billion is returned to the UK as funding for farming, regional development and science, as well as contributing to our national development aid budget. The precise allocation of funding within these areas is generally managed at the national level.

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5. “The demented Common Agricultural Policy, massively over-bureaucratic and prescriptive, adds about £400 to the cost of food for every household in this country.”

Although the CAP is in desperate need of reform, the £400 annual figure is wildly exaggerated. According to the Office for National Statistics, household expenditure on food, drink, alcohol, cigarettes and narcotics is roughly £70 per week. Contrary to eurosceptic claims, ditching the CAP would save 1% on food bills –  70p per week, or just over £36 per year.

6. “The EU budget is so wasteful and so corrupt that the Court of Auditors has not signed off the accounts for the last 20 years.”

This mistake, which also displays a lack of understanding of auditing, is repeated almost annually. The Court of Auditors has “signed off” on the EU budget every year since 2007. What confuses people is the “estimated error rate” –  the amount of money that should not have been paid out, due to complex eligibility rules and overestimates of farmers which the EU tries to claw back after the budget, as well as other reasons. The auditors have stressed it is “not a measure of fraud, inefficiency or waste”. The “overall rate of material error” was 4.4% in the 2014 EU budget, but this needs to be less than 2% “free of material error”. This is not ideal, but also not the same as not having the accounts signed off.

7. “We could strike free trade deals with America, with China, with the growth economies around the world.”

It is wishful thinking for Boris to suggest trade deals would be quick and easy when he says “we would be able to begin immediately with those long-neglected free trade opportunities which we can’t do at the moment”. China and the US would be tough negotiators and the UK would have greater clout negotiating trade deals as part of a 500 million-consumer bloc. Boris’ idea that the UK could complete trade agreements easily outside the EU was thrown into doubt by the president of the US Export-Import Bank, who said recently: “If we’re going to put all that political effort in, it’s not going to be a bilateral [deal].” Last October, US trade representative Mike Froman also argued the UK “has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU” and that the US was “not particularly in the market” for trade with individual nations.

Edited by Yojana Sharma

4 Responses to “Seven errors Boris made in his latest speech”

  • One of the most mediatised points of Johnson’s Dartford speech is his suggestion that the UK could obtain the same trade relationship with the EU as has Canada. The 1598 pages of the CETA, as the EU-Canada deal is known, which has yet to be finally ratified though the negotiations started in 2004 and can now expect a less than smooth passage in the various national parliaments in the EU (btw Belgium has 7) as well as the European Parliament before final ratification, are summarised here: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2014/december/tradoc_152982.pdf (though the investor protection provisions have now been amended to replace ISDS with ICS – more about this later).
    A quick analysis shows that many tariffs will remain for 7 years after ratification (and some will not be eliminated at all) hedged with a raft of reservations and conditions regarding for example consumer protection and environmental requirements. Particular restrictions will apply to agricultural and fisheries products and motors among others. Shipping would suffer as the deal that the Commission hails in the Canadian context would be a significant backwards step for the British industry.
    Complex Rules of Origin (ROO – though I expect Boris would only recognise this as Pooh’s friend) would apply. It is worth remembering in this context that some 30% of UK imports from xEU originate from outside the Union as opposed to some 23% foreign content in UK exports – which nullifies the basis of the oft repeated Outers’ claim that xEU countries have a massive trade surplus.
    The EU would continue to set standards, and without the automatic cover of the EU’s mutual recognition arrangements, new conformity assessments would be introduced, with concomitant expenses for UK producers. A new bureaucracy would be required for this, as well as an extra burden on customs and excise.
    Though the EU single market for services isn’t yet fully realised, a reversal to the Canadian example would be a huge backwards step, particularly for financial services: the UK’s flagship exporter to the EU (I leave aside the role of the City which deserves a whole separate discussion). New, more restrictive rules would have to be introduced on public procurement, Intellectual Property Rights and Geographical Indications. Professional people wouldn’t be able to work freely in the EU as they can now.
    Many in the UK, and throughout the EU, strongly object to the introduction of the Investor Court System (ICS) of arbitration that is now in CETA. In the context of the TTIP negotiations with the US many Outers, left and right, have accused the EU of imperilling our NHS by including it. In reality the British Government could exclude it if it wished. In any event, massive objections can be foreseen to resurge both here and in xEU if a negotiation on the terms of the UK’s future relationship includes ICS, as CETA does.
    What is Red Tape for some are Red Lines for others. In particular, British trade unions have made clear that their support for EU membership depends on the maintenance of EU-based worker rights. The TUC has produced an important report on those, that can he found here:
    https://www.tuc.org.uk/international-issues/europe/eu-referendum/workplace-issues/uk-employment-rights-and-eu
    Outers often cite EU bureaucracy as a reason for leaving. But they seldom explain what are these bureaucratic impediments to business. The reality is that they are unhappy with the basic labour and environmental standards that seek to create a more civilised environment as well as a level playing field in Europe. The CETA introduces standards on those matters in its Sustainable Development chapter. They are relatively weak compared to the EU’s but are nevertheless a challenge to the mantra of “sovereignty” we hear so often.
    Maybe, in bringing up a Canadian-type deal, Johnson is revealing a longing for the UK to join the North American Free Trade Area with the US and Mexico. That old idea, pressed by right-wing lawmakers in the US and UK decades ago, was rejected by PM Margaret Thatcher.

  • 1. Every law on the UK statute was either made as a result of an EU Directive, compliant with EU laws, or cannot be enforced because it does not comply with those laws. EU regulations become law in the UK (and Latvia) without the need for a new law.

    So Boris was wrong on the actual figures….the real figure for EU interference is 100%.

    2. The EU insisted that balloon packaging contain a warning that related to 8-year olds. Why should the EU control what goes on packaging if it doesn’t relate to legal issues?

    3. The EU dictates the laws relating to deportation of criminals.

    4. Boris was right, as you admitted. So why was he ‘wrong’?

    5. The CAP adds money to food bills. To calculate the precise figure for each household is impossible, but the fact that CAP costs money is the best reason to abolish it. Leaving the EU would help British households.

    6. EU accounts get signed off as being hugely inaccurate. UK law does/did not allow for inaccurate accounts to be submitted by anyone. The ECA can moan all it likes about ‘fraud’, but that is exactly what is happening.

    7. After Brexit, the UK would be free to pursue free trade deals across the globe. It already has 27 in place thanks to our current EU membership.

    • Gary, you obviously didn’t read the comments by Tom Jenkins which deal in some detail with all yours (and Johnson’s). What’s more, they show just how wrong you are. I guess your a brexiter and, like all brexiters I’ve engaged with, you still won’t admit that EU membership offers more benefits than costs. Why do you hate it so much?