Expert View

Don’t believe Brexiters. These 5 Leave falsehoods show why

by David Hannay | 29.09.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Boris Johnson and the other Tory Brexiters will be out in force at Conservative Party Conference, which starts tomorrow. Their latest big argument is that a Canada-style free trade agreement is be the best way to make a success of Brexit. Don’t believe them. The Canada option would hit our trade, do nothing for our huge services sector, and fails to solve the Irish border problem.

And let’s not forget these are the same individuals who promised so much during the 2016 referendum. One by one, the props holding up the Leave campaign have since fallen. Here are five of the biggest to come crashing down.

1. Immigration scare stories

One of the main props of the Leave campaign fell last week. The notion that immigration from the EU was damaging the UK’s economy and society, and therefore had to be stopped, was found by the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to be untrue. EU freedom of movement of people was portrayed as so damaging to the UK that this alone justified leaving. The MAC report gives the lie to that contention. EU immigrants contribute far more to the UK economy than they take out of it. Immigration from the EU has in any case been dropping substantially even ahead of Brexit.

2. £350 million a week for the NHS

The basic figure was wrong to begin with, based as it was on our gross contribution, without any account being taken of Margaret Thatcher’s budget rebate. It should have been calculated on our net contribution. But last December’s commitment to pay a £39 billion divorce settlement, and the Chequers proposals to participate in a whole range of EU programmes and agencies, each one of which will involve some financial contribution, makes nonsense of any saving from Brexit being equivalent even to the lower net figure.

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3. Turkey on the brink of EU accession

The argument went that Turkey’s 80 million population would receive the right to free movement and thus be able to come to the UK. Even in 2016, the prospect of Turkish accession was a distant one, with every single EU member state, including the UK, having a veto on it. Now that prospect is vanishingly small.

4. Lots of new free trade agreements

Brexiters have kept claiming that negotiating new free trade agreements with rapidly growing countries outside the EU would be as easy as pie. They claim they would more than compensate for any loss of frictionless access to the EU’s single market. That prospect has anyway been postponed until after January 2021 following the standstill transitional period. But many of those third countries already have free trade agreements with the EU, agreements which we are now scrambling to roll over into bilateral deals – just running to stand still – in order not to lose their benefits in March 2019. Meanwhile the jewel in the crown, a UK/US agreement, looks problematic in the extreme.

5. Staying in the single market

We could leave the EU, but stay in the EU’s single market. That has been ruled out by the government’s own red line, although the muddled Chequers compromise would leave us in single market for goods but not services.

So, if and when the electorate is given a People’s Vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations – whether that’s crashing out with no deal or Theresa May’s miserable deal – the Leavers are going to need to think up some better arguments than those in their back catalogue. No wonder they are showing such signs of stress at this prospect. With several EU leaders at Salzburg publicly contemplating the case for such a vote, and the prime minister increasingly having to address the possibility of it in her speeches, they have good reason to be worried.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

7 Responses to “Don’t believe Brexiters. These 5 Leave falsehoods show why”

  • Using the “EU immigrants” terminology is very misleading.
    First it should say “from the rest of the EU” as the UK is still part of it.
    Secondly the word “immigrant” is inappropriate: we are taking about citizens of one Union enjoying their freedom of movement rights within one European Union. Are we talking about Uk migrants in England for Welsh or Scottish settling on the other side of the Border? I hear the remark that this is different as the Uk is a State unlike the EU. Still this is the same idea of intra-union mobility.
    By the way the word “expat” used for British citizens enjoying their FOM in other countries of the EU, is actually a less inappropriate one as it implies something temporary. Indeed most EU citizens always return to their home country at one point. They move around to learn and develop things such as talents or enjoy a certain lifestyle for a period of time. They tend stay for good when their families have become bi-national (marriage…).

  • Further to my previous post (if published), quite an interesting article about the concepts of migration, immigration, expatriation…
    These words describe different situations and trigger different emotions thus the fundamental need to use them with rigour.
    Had the non-British EU citizens living in the UK be called for who they really are (fellow citizens enjoying a union-wide rights or even expat), Leave would have never ever won. The complacency of media, civil servants… towards the innacurate and dismissive Eu migrant term (a word that implies someone coming from a poorer, less stable, less developed country out of necessity and abusively pointing out those menial workers from Eastern Europe -whom the Uk honourably fast-tracked in the EU), betrayed their own xenophobia and was key to help the Leave campaign be successful.

  • I’m clear that the message to MPs from the People’s Vote Campaign has to be that any deal struck by the Government should be put to the people. But I doubt that if there were no deal, we should still want that to be put to the people. At least I would hope that we can rely upon there being a majority in the Commons to vote down ‘No Deal’ in their own right. MPs should be aware that they are better placed than are the electorate at large to realise what a catastrophe No Deal would be.
    I think, then, that ‘Vote on the final Brexit deal’ should mean exactly what it says. This is contrary to what David Hannay suggests in his last para. Maybe he thinks that no deal is a deal.

  • On the question of migration and on the assumption that it was thought to be a key issue in the Leave campaign, what are the current figures for non-EU migrants entering the UK.? Are they the skilled workers that we need? Can we please know a bit more about current and likely future migration,plus more about emigration? Who is leaving the UK?

  • You can go to the ONS website and find all of the information you need. Alas, unlike the pre 2010 govt websites, it takes a lot more work to dig down to the right information, but it is there.

  • Why do we seemingly never read about the positives of the EU? It’s ok, and easy in most instances, to rubbish aspects of Brexit but I’d much prefer to go on the front foot and start justifying remain.

  • The claims by Johnson, Gove and Farage were rubbished by many even themselves in the days following the counting of referendum votes. Brexit has morphed into a monster never envisaged by the supporters and certainly not the citizens at large. The falsehoods (could we just call them lies?) are kept alive and are being repeated again and again by the right wing press and ‘think tanks’ claiming to be acting on behalf of the population at large.

    These groups are europhobes and are being at least partially funded by foreign interests who would love to weaken the EU and even destroy it. The EU is a too big and too successful trading group with a military strong enough to protect itself should needs be. Much money is covertly being channeled to the UK from the US and Russia and these countries to not have our best interests at heart.

    Divide and conquer is a well known tactique and here we see it working very well indeed.