10 of VoteLeave’s half-truths and untruths

by David Hannay | 13.03.2016

If you have ever wondered what sort of nightmares Eurosceptics have when they have eaten too many toasted cheese sandwiches before going to bed, you need only look at Vote Leave’s recent offering entitled 43 Years, 43 Broken Promises. Here is a vintage collection of half-truths, quarter-truths and untruths, lovingly polished and embellished over the years; a gallery dedicated to paranoia. Space does not permit a full analysis of every one of those 43 allegations of broken promises; but here are a few thoughts on 10 of the choicest ones (the numbers in brackets are those in Vote Leave’s document).

1. Have we irretrievably eroded our essential national sovereignty (2)? No. We have pooled the exercise of some of it, as we did when we joined NATO, the UN and other international organisations because we believed we could put it to more effective use that way than by hoarding it. Parliament can take it back by withdrawing from the EU. That is what the vote on 23 June is about.

2. Has Brussels forced us to put VAT on food (4)? No. There is VAT on a few marginal food items (like potato crisps). But in every case that was because successive Chancellors of the Exchequer wanted more revenue, not because of a diktat from Brussels.

3. Are we being forced into an Economic and Monetary Union (6)? No. Britain’s opt-out from the Single Currency is enshrined in the treaty and was further entrenched by the February 2016 package of reforms.

4. Are we being pulled into a federal super-state (7). No. The agreement reached in February makes it clear that we are not bound by any references in the treaty to “ever closer union” and that in any case that formula has no legal force, nor is it a basis for EU law.

5. Have we lifted our border controls and lost our veto on immigration issues (18/19)? No. Our opt- out from the Schengen passport-free travel zone is enshrined in the treaty; as is our right to decide ourselves whether or not to join any legislation affecting immigration.

6. Could we be forced to accept a European Public Prosecutor (27)? No. Britain’s opt-out from this is in the treaty.

7. Is the UK budget rebate secure (32)? Yes. It would have been more honest if Vote Leave admitted that, since 1985, the rebate has spared Britain £82 billion (and still counting) ; and that in 2013 Britain was ninth in the contribution league table by head of population.

8. Is there a European army (34)? No. There is no such thing. What Presidents of the Commission may have said about this is neither here nor there as such an army is not in the gift of the Commission. Security policy issues are a matter for the member states to decide by unanimity, so Britain has a veto.

9. Could we become responsible for bailing out the Eurozone or one of its members (36)? No. The February reform package makes it clear that Britain has no liability for Eurozone bail-outs.

10. Does the February reform package have legal force and will it lead to treaty change (39/43)? Yes is the answer to both of those questions. It is a legally binding international agreement (which is why depositing it at the UN has more than just symbolic importance) ; and it will be inserted into the treaty when this is next changed. This kind of post-dated commitment was used for Denmark and Ireland in the past; in both cases it was honoured in the letter and the spirit; and no attempt was made by the European Court of Justice to question or to overturn these commitments in the period before they were incorporated in the treaty.

All in all Vote Leave’s “43 Years, 43 Broken Promises” is a shoddy piece of work, beefed up with selective quotations and inaccurate analysis and taking no account of the February 2016 reform package. It does, however, serve one useful purpose. It makes it clear that Project Fear was not something invented by the Remain campaign in the last few weeks; it has been a standard operation for Eurosceptics over the last 40 years. So this really is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

David Hannay is a former UK ambassador to the EU and UN. He was involved in Britain’s accession negotiations to the European Economic Community and was Britain’s Permanent Representative in Brussels when the UK helped to draft the Single European Act, which provided the foundation for the Single Market. 

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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2 Responses to “10 of VoteLeave’s half-truths and untruths”

  • I quite agree with Mr Hannay’s comments. What is truly extraordinary is that the whole UK/EU debate is exclusively concentrating on financial/economic issues whereas the real issues are political, that is the place of the UK and the place of Europe in the world. The problems confronting the world today -the environment, international trade, the Middle East, Migration , Security,etc., can only be addressed as part of action amongst states acting collectively and in consort. An individual country of the size and economic strength of the UK by itself can have no influence at all. Unfortunately as the Remain campaign seems to be basing itself solely on financial/economic issues it is not surprising that the OUT campaign generates the passion as it appeals to those who, knowingly or not believe ” we are better than them “.

  • Just wonder whether those advocating leaving can remember the queues at customs at air ports and ferry terminals. Restrictions on wine and spirits etc, hospital and health charges, no EHIC! And do they really think that a French or German company would treat the UK company with the same attitude on a contract as an EU company. Dream on!