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Leave pledges to spend money it doesn’t have many times over

by David Hannay | 31.05.2016

Not only is the Leave campaign’s overall figure for Britain’s contribution to the EU budget grossly overstated, but senior figures in the campaign have been busy promising to spend it on their favourite causes: pledging to pay Peter and Paul with money that isn’t there. This is just the sort of irresponsible approach to public finance that, in a general election campaign, brings defeat to the side peddling it as voters wake up to the fact that they are being misled.

The overall figure that the Leave campaigners use (including emblazoning it across the Boris battle bus) of £350 million a week, simply does not exist, as many, including the Office for National Statistics, have pointed out. InFacts has set out clearly here what we do send and how much of that comes back to the UK – as well as explaining how there would be no saving at all if we quit the EU because the economy would take a hit. There would be a hole in the public finances, meaning we would have less money to spend on public services not more.

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Some Leave leaders have already earmarked the whole of their fictitious £350 million a week to the NHS, leaving nothing for farmers, or for Cornwall, West Wales or Cumbria; and nothing for the Highlands and Islands or Northern Ireland; and nothing too for scientific research and innovation. Others, such as Boris Johnson, have promised to maintain the current level of support for farmers in perpetuity. Yet others, like the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, have said that that province will not get a penny less than it does now if we leave. Today, the three leaders of Vote Leave – Johnson, Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart – promised in The Sun to scrap VAT on energy bills. This would cost around £1.6 billion, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

As the battle bus winds its way around the country, there will no doubt be other such pledges. The sums simply do not add up; if we vote to leave, a lot of people are going to be grievously disappointed.

Edited by Jane Macartney and Hugo Dixon

This article was updated shortly after publication to include the cost of removing VAT on energy bills.