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Analysis

Spectator and Telegraph help perpetuate Johnson’s £350m lie

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 18.09.2017

Vote Leave was able to spread its lies during the referendum with the help of sympathetic newspapers. Sadly, nothing has changed. When Boris Johnson revived the £350 million lie at the weekend, his fanclub at the Telegraph and Spectator (both former employers) aided and abetted him.

The Spectator’s Steerpike columnist backed Johnson in his row with the UK’s independent statistics watchdog, writing: “We all know the deal with the EU: we pay in, then there’s the rebate and EU spending (farm subsidies, etc) in the UK.” Steerpike was backed by Fraser Nelson, the Spectator’s editor, who tweeted: “For once, the £350m figure was used accurately.”

The problem is that this isn’t our deal with the EU. We do not “pay in” and then get the rebate back. The rebate is a discount on our membership fee that is never paid to the EU, as the UK Statistics Authority clarified last year, writing: “HM Treasury pays over the UK’s contributions after deducting the value of the rebate.”

The Telegraph committed a somewhat lesser sin. It stated twice that we send £350 million a week to the EU – first in its original front-page splash on Saturday and then in the follow-up splash the next day in the Sunday Telegraph. This is false for the same reason that the Spectator got its facts wrong: we never send £350 million a week to the EU because the rebate is never sent to Brussels.

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The paper’s defence would appear to be that it was merely reporting on what Johnson had written in his article for the paper. There would, though, be two problems with such a defence. First, the foreign secretary didn’t actually write that we “send” £350 million a week to Brussels. He made a slightly different, albeit still inaccurate claim. Second, the text of the Telegraph’s articles suggested that it was a fact that we send the EU £350 million a week – not merely that this was something Johnson was claiming.

The offending section in the second paragraph of the Saturday article reads: “the Foreign Secretary restates the key demand of the Leave campaign – that £350m a week currently sent to Brussels should be redirected to fund the NHS.” Although the Telegraph mentions that the claim that we will be £350 million a week better off after leaving the EU is “controversial”, this doesn’t appear until paragraph 11.

The problem section in the Sunday Telegraph, also in the second paragraph, says Michael Gove and Priti Patel, two other Brexiters in the cabinet, are backing Johnson’s “demand that after Brexit Britain makes good on a pledge to spend some of the £350million which the UK sends to the EU on the National Health Service.” Although the paper acknowledges that the figure was criticised by the UK Statistics Authority during the referendum, a reader would have to wait until paragraph 15 to learn this.

InFacts has written to both the Spectator and the Telegraph asking for corrections.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

10 Responses to “Spectator and Telegraph help perpetuate Johnson’s £350m lie”

  • It is silly to keep referring to comments as “lies” just because you don’t agree. It is poor logic. The writer of the “lies” may well be mistaken or wrong but that doesn’t make him a liar. It might even be a good idea to read what was actually written rather than make incorrect assertions.

    • Given Johnson’s track record, it is probably safer to assume this is a lie, whose only purpose is to get Johnson’s name back in print. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. That alone is enough to dismiss this fraud.

    • They state it is a lie, not an opinion, because that’s what it is.
      It was said, and the figures are incorrect (not an opinion, if you look at what amount is paid to Brussels each week).
      There’s not really room for disagreement regarding this argument acutely.

    • Sorry, but David Norgrove, the head of the UK Statistics Authority does not agree with you. He accused Johnson of “a clear misuse of public statistics”.

      In other words, not telling the truth or at best using figures to distort the truth. This goes way beyond simply disagreeing with Johnson’s figures.

  • Far too many leave supporters think the EU rebate is like a cashback deal where you have to pay the upfront cost in order to receive the deductions. The opposite is true.

    But then they’re going to have to make a choice, aren’t they? They either disagree with the £350m con. Or they don’t and support Johnson. But if they do, will they be expecting other government figures including Mrs May to do likewise? And will leave supporters be holding these ministers along with Johnson to account regarding this fictitious bundle?

  • Let Johnson and the others continue with this claim of £350m per week. Just ensure that we hold them to it after we’re out of the EU and that they explain in detail exactly to where the sum is being redistributed.

  • Unfortunately Sam, Boris is entirely right in this case and the language he used is consistent with the gross figure and the £350m. He did not say “extra” spending as you admit, but said take control. The difference in opinion then comes down to whether you agree the ‘rebate’ is under our control or not. This is not a TRUE and LIE argument. For example, it is very easy and persuasive to say that the EU could negotiate it away and trade it off against other things that the UK wants such as CAP reform.

    In which case, the rebate, it is not 100% under our control.

    Therefore in a legal sense, Boris is 100% correct.

  • There can be few things more degrading for a country than to have its foreign secretary publicly called a liar both at home and by our allies abroad. It is quite incomprehensible that Boris Johnson should not be suing his detractors, and getting the full backing of the government to do so. Unless, of course, they think he would lose his case…

  • Boris Johnson is a product of a supremely privileged background which has taught him that life can be lived irresponsibly with no material consequences for his own life-style. He has contributed to the wilful distortion of the UK democratic processes to achieve his sordid aims of satisfying his own personal fixation of “being seen to win” a battle with the EU borne out of unrequited adolescent malice rather than any great philosophical or properly argued economic debate which can be regarded in the UK’s interest. For these reasons he is dangerous, untrustworthy and showing behaviour, which if not insane, is actually bordering on treachery in as much as it causes significant harm to the population.