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Fake News

Sun climbs down on ‘bargain’ Brexit. Will Rees-Mogg follow?

by Luke Lythgoe | 27.03.2018

The Sun has finally fessed up to a series of careless calculations suggesting Brexit would see big price drops in UK shops. The tabloid deleted the offending article hours after posting it on February 27. Now, almost exactly a month later, it has published a rather embarrassing “clarification”. Will Brexiters such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, who enthusiastically tweeted the original figures set the record straight also?

The Sun’s original article, “Vote for bargains”, claimed huge savings for UK consumers if EU tariffs were removed after Brexit.

The Sun’s figures were hugely inflated because it had worked from retail prices rather than the price of goods as they entered the UK. The paper also overlooked other key facts. Some choice errors included:

  • Potential savings on a pack of butter was given as £1. But the tariff is about 42p per pack.
  • Savings on an LG flatscreen TV were given as £44. But there’s actually no tariff thanks to an EU free trade agreement with South Korea – which we are now scrambling to copy post-Brexit.
  • Savings on cherry tomatoes were given as 21p. But almost all EU imports of tomatoes come from Morocco, which has a preferential arrangement with the EU.

This begs several questions. Why was the article sneaked off the website and only clarified a month later? For that matter, why is such a comprehensive series of errors being called a “clarification” rather than a full correction?

Finally, will those who shared the calculations also acknowledge the error? Rees-Mogg’s comments thanking the newspaper for “calculating the huge savings for us all outside the Customs Union” were retweeted over 3,000 times and liked by 5,000 people. The correction should get the same exposure as The Sun’s faulty Brexit maths originally received.

There’s a more fundamental flaw The Sun hasn’t admitted to. Prices are actually more likely to go up than fall if we quit the customs union. Brexiters’ arguments assume that the UK would slash tariffs unilaterally post-Brexit. But even Theresa May’s government isn’t willing to do that.

The Brexit extremists’ plan would put us in a terrible position to get other countries to drop their tariffs on our exports when we try to cut trade deals with them – after all, their exports to us already wouldn’t face tariffs. UK exporters, and the jobs of those who work for them, would suffer.

Without slashing tariffs, leaving the customs union could mean we face higher prices. Under WTO rules, we must charge all countries the same tariff unless we sign a trade deal with them. If we were unable to conclude a deal with the EU, we would have to apply tariffs on European imports that currently flow unhindered – raising prices. That means more expensive food, cars and so on.

InFacts contacted Jacob Rees-Mogg asking him to correct his tweet. There was no response at time of publication.

Edited by Hugo Dixon