The Leave campaign makes such a song and dance about how pro-Europeans are doing down Britain that it may seem odd that it is guilty of precisely that sin. Vote Leave and other eurosceptics repeatedly claim that the UK has little to no influence in the EU.
Whatever one thinks of David Cameron’s renegotiation – and one shouldn’t big it up – the evidence shows that the UK is not marginalised in Europe. It was the prime mover behind creating the EU’s single market, devising its competition policy and expanding the bloc to include former Warsaw Pact countries. It also does well in the deal-making that determines single market rules.
This hasn’t stopped Vote Leave making four claims that are factually wrong or misleading.
Claim 1: “We can only rely on 8% of votes in the Council of Ministers”
Misleading. The UK’s voting share in Council rose from 8.2% to 12.7% in 2014. As a transitional measure member states can still insist on using the old voting rules, but this only applies until April 2017.
Claim 2: The UK “can’t block EU laws”
Not true. The UK retains its veto in important areas like foreign policy, taxation, and the budget framework. In other areas, where qualified majority voting applies, the UK cannot on its own block laws. But it has the third largest voting power in the Council and is often able to work with other countries to change or stop proposals it doesn’t like. For example, the UK was instrumental in getting the EU last year to drop proposed maternity leave rules which it thought would be a burden on employers and taxpayers.
Claim 3: “Inside the EU we do not have control but are told what to do”
Misleading. While it is true that the UK has been outvoted in the Council more than any other country in the past six years, it was still on the winning side 87% of the time. What’s more, Britain is good at getting the right proposals on the table in the first place. Simon Hix at the London School of Economics crunched the numbers: comparing what each country wants to happen in a negotiation with what actually happens, the UK is the fourth most successful country in the EU; If you look at the issues the UK cares about most, it is the second most successful.
Claim 4: “The UK is now being outvoted more and more frequently as the eurozone countries have started to use their in-built voting majority.”
The single currency’s members could theoretically outvote the others and force through a law that undermines the single market. So it is right that Cameron has secured some protection against such caucusing in his draft deal. But InFacts cannot find any evidence that this is happening, and Vote Leave did not provide any when asked to do so or respond to other queries. In a negotiation on (say) agriculture rules, coalitions are not determined by your currency, but by the matter in hand.
Britain, of course, doesn’t always get its way in Brussels. It couldn’t, for example, stop a misguided cap on bankers’ bonuses. But the best way to advance its interests is to get stuck in and fight its corner. The best way to be marginalised would be to quit.
Edited by Hugo Dixon