Billed as his first major speech on the EU since backing Brexit, Boris Johnson warned Britons not to be “cowed by the gloomadon poppers” – referring to the pessimistic pronouncements on Brexit by the Remain campaign. But as is often the case, the Mayor of London did not let facts get in the way of his characteristic colourful language.
His speech delivered at a Europa warehouse in Dartford, Kent repeated several Leave campaign myths. InFacts looks at seven of them.
1. “Brussels is producing between a half, according to the House of Commons, or some say two-thirds of everything that goes through Parliament.”
Trying to calculate the proportion of UK law which comes from the EU is a fool’s game, which is why the Remain camp estimates low and Brexiteers tend to shoot high. The most recent House of Commons report puts the figure at 13.2%, but a different calculation can easily put it at about two thirds. Very little of this legislation actually goes through Parliament.
2. The EU has rules on “how old a child has to be before he or she can blow up a balloon”.
This euromyth dates back to 2011. The European Commission then issued an emergency press release saying the regulation merely recommends adult supervision and emphasised that under-eights were not banned from inflating balloons.
3. “They restrict our ability to deport criminals and people who are a threat to the security of this country.”
This allegation centres on the case of a Moroccan woman in the UK, a convicted criminal, but also mother of a young child who has British nationality. The protection of children is part of UK law independently of EU law. But in the case of a risk to public security she can be deported anyway.
4. The UK gives the EU “£20bn per year, half of which [it] spends in our own country. Brussels bureaucrats deciding how to spend UK taxpayers’ money in the UK.”
This is another version of the incorrect claim that Britain sends Brussels £55 million per day, or £350 million per week. In 2015 Britain’s EU budget contribution was £17.8 billion. But £4.9 billion of that was Britain’s rebate, which is not sent to Brussels.
Boris is right that roughly half of the remaining £12.9 billion is returned to the UK as funding for farming, regional development and science, as well as contributing to our national development aid budget. The precise allocation of funding within these areas is generally managed at the national level.
5. “The demented Common Agricultural Policy, massively over-bureaucratic and prescriptive, adds about £400 to the cost of food for every household in this country.”
Although the CAP is in desperate need of reform, the £400 annual figure is wildly exaggerated. According to the Office for National Statistics, household expenditure on food, drink, alcohol, cigarettes and narcotics is roughly £70 per week. Contrary to eurosceptic claims, ditching the CAP would save 1% on food bills – 70p per week, or just over £36 per year.
6. “The EU budget is so wasteful and so corrupt that the Court of Auditors has not signed off the accounts for the last 20 years.”
This mistake, which also displays a lack of understanding of auditing, is repeated almost annually. The Court of Auditors has “signed off” on the EU budget every year since 2007. What confuses people is the “estimated error rate” – the amount of money that should not have been paid out, due to complex eligibility rules and overestimates of farmers which the EU tries to claw back after the budget, as well as other reasons. The auditors have stressed it is “not a measure of fraud, inefficiency or waste”. The “overall rate of material error” was 4.4% in the 2014 EU budget, but this needs to be less than 2% “free of material error”. This is not ideal, but also not the same as not having the accounts signed off.
7. “We could strike free trade deals with America, with China, with the growth economies around the world.”
It is wishful thinking for Boris to suggest trade deals would be quick and easy when he says “we would be able to begin immediately with those long-neglected free trade opportunities which we can’t do at the moment”. China and the US would be tough negotiators and the UK would have greater clout negotiating trade deals as part of a 500 million-consumer bloc. Boris’ idea that the UK could complete trade agreements easily outside the EU was thrown into doubt by the president of the US Export-Import Bank, who said recently: “If we’re going to put all that political effort in, it’s not going to be a bilateral [deal].” Last October, US trade representative Mike Froman also argued the UK “has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU” and that the US was “not particularly in the market” for trade with individual nations.
Edited by Yojana Sharma