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Why Vote Leave’s use of £350m figure is a lie

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 27.05.2016

The claim that we send £350 million a week to Brussels isn’t just false. Vote Leave must by now know it’s false. Peddling the untruth after respected voices – including today the chair of the UK Statistics Authority and the Treasury Select Committee – have highlighted the error is dishonest.

In its broadcast ads and on the side of the battle bus ferrying Boris Johnson around the country, Vote Leave says we “send” £350 million a week to the EU. This is not true. The £350 million figure doesn’t account for the discount that Margaret Thatcher, a hero to so many eurosceptics, won for Britain. This discount – the so-called rebate – is never sent to Brussels.

There are things that Vote Leave could legitimately say about £350 million a week. It could, for example, call it our hypothetical or notional contribution. But it is a mistake to say we “send” it to Brussels.

Vote Leave must know this. InFacts has repeatedly pointed out that we do not send the rebate to Brussels. We have been explaining this to Vote Leave since February. We have also 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.

The Chair of the UKSA, Andrew Dilnot, warned Vote Leave in April that its use of the £350 million figure is “potentially misleading”.

The Office for National Statistics, following pressure from InFacts, published a release on May 25 saying: “This amount of money was never actually transferred to the EU. Before the UK government transfers any money to the EU a rebate is applied”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies on May 25 said the £350 million figure “is equivalent to suggesting that were the UK to leave the EU and not make any financial contribution to the EU’s budget then remaining EU members would continue to pay the rebate to the UK”, which is “clearly absurd”.

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BBC Reality Check wrote in April: “We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the UK does not send £350m a week to Brussels – the rebate is deducted before the money is sent”.

Full Fact, the fact-checking website, had previously provided some intellectual cover for Vote Leave by saying “it’s reasonable to describe £55 million as our ‘membership fee’” – Brexiteers sometimes talk about £50 million or £55 million a day rather than £350 million pounds a week. After InFacts pointed out errors in its calculation in February, Full Fact corrected its piece. In April, it went further, saying Vote Leave’s claim that “we send £350 million to Brussels every week….is not a fact”.

Dilnot today put out a statement saying: “The UK Statistics Authority is disappointed to note that there continue to be suggestions that the UK contributes £350 million to the EU each week… As we have made clear, the UK’s contribution to the EU is paid after the application of the rebate”.

Dilnot also wrote today to Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s campaign director, saying: “As I have made clear previously, this is not an amount of money that the UK pays to the EU each year”.

The Treasury Select Committee, in a report published today, said £350 million “is not ‘sent’ to Brussels in the first place”.

The committee added: “Vote Leave has subsequently placed the £350m figure on its campaign bus, and on much of its recent campaign literature. The public should discount this claim. Vote Leave’s persistence with it is deeply problematic. It sits very awkwardly with its promises to the Electoral Commission to work in a spirit that reflects its ‘very significant responsibility’ and the ‘gravity of the choice facing the British people’.”

It is not credible that Vote Leave is making an honest mistake. It is telling a lie. The public should punish it accordingly.

Vote Leave did not respond to requests for comment.

This piece was amended shortly after publication to add the phrase: “Brexiteers sometimes talk about £50 million or £55 million a day rather than £350 million pounds a week.”

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Tags: , Categories: Brexit, Economy

9 Responses to “Why Vote Leave’s use of £350m figure is a lie”

  • It would have been useful to mention the net contributions that is paid. I’m afraid this is another half story. I want to make a balanced decision and all I got from this article is Britaindoes not send 350 million to the EU each week.

    • Exactly David. Half a story and what good is that!!! By my own rudimentary calculations we individually pay £134 a year which makes the EU better value than our own failing government, monarchy and civil list by billions…. Weather or not that is a good reason to vote to stay who can tell…. On environmental, workers rights, scientific, rural and homeland security issues on balance I reckon we should stay in for now but you really have to dig to find fact especially on the sneaky tactics of our own governments over the years as two examples I give fishing quotas given to massive super trawlers that employ just over half their crew from the uk and are in fact Dutch owned and land more often than not on the Netherlands with 23% of the uk’s quota! Allowed by our government and next up the French will be making a fortune selling dingy’s to folk in the jungle as they wont keep them there and we won’t have a force to stop it so they will be in Dover instead. I’m not keen on the idea that we still have to follow all the rules if we wish to do business in Europe and have none of the say. For me if no one else, now isn’t the time to leave economically or politically and those idiot Tories should have bloody well known better! One day yes but for now not on our nelly.

  • If Vote Leave will not withdraw the £350m figure, we must take them at their word – the clear implication is that EU investment in science, agriculture and regional development will not be replaced after Brexit.

    • As is my worry too Cahir. Leaving even more of our industries on their backside and ids flexible workers rights back to 1840 a very real possibility

  • I sadly voted to go into the EEC (European Economic Community), I never had a say when the EEC became the EC (European community) then again I never had a say when this became the EU (European Union).
    When I voted as a young man to enter the EEC I did so because the then prime minister Heath, told the British people two significant lies!
    1/ This was a trading agreement only!
    2/ There would be NO SIGNIFICANT LOSS of sovereignty!
    On a Sunday lunchtime programme hosted by Brian Waldren, Heath (he do’s not deserve any other title) admitted to these two lies arrogantly and unapologetically.
    Since this shameless admission I have been opposed in every way to the EU, why you may ask, because the British people were hoodwinked and deceived into giving up their hard won freedoms, for some kind of faceless bureaucracy, which had/has nothing to do with democracy. At heart I am a democrat and I thank God that I have been given a final chance to expunge this dis-graceful deception on one of the greatest nations on this planet!! This is why people of my generation are very angry over the abysmal treatment of this nation under the now EU.

  • As David pointed out above, it would be helpful to point the amount of a rebate and the monies returned in supporting the farming indusry, science and places like Cornwall. Even then to put this in the context of the free trade benefit that we receive as being part of the club helps give the costs some perpective.

  • As a person who does not understand in full what was stated in this article, other than we do not send 350 million to Europe and we get a rebate….can someone explain-in terms we all will understand, what does this mean? Are we committed to putting that amount of money to one side to fund things as the EU sees fit? Is the rebate the part we don’t send, but is spent in the UK on EU decided projects? Where did the 350 million figure come from? Anyone who can explain this without purposely confusing political speak will get a thanks and a thumbs up from me!

  • The ‘rebate’ is not set in the EU treaties, it is negotiated as part of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) every seven years and as such can easily be cancelled! The EU ‘rebate’ was a mistake by Lady Thatcher.. but was probably easier to achieve. A rebate can be handed back by a present incumbent as indeed Blair did in his shot at the EU presidency. It would have been better had Thatcher gone straight for a lower contribution. That the £1.7 billion the EU demaded was handed over tio the EU and that the EU receives a substantial part of the UKs Foreign Aid budget is not included in EU or government figures is disturbing! That this £3.7 Billion is missing one has to wonder what other funds are deliberately omitted!

  • another thing that is omitted is the 1.2 billion that we are required to send help albania and turkey fulfil the requirements to enter the EU..this is due between the 2014- 2020 years. We have also agreed a further 647 million to Turkey on top of this. If cameron was telling the truth that we do not need to worry about Turkey going the EU until the year 3000 then why are we wasting this amount of monies. The fact that these amounts have been left out is also disturbing…what else is there we are not being told about. Oh yes another issue that is glossed over is the amount that is sent abroad regarding in work child tax credits for children living abroad. The inland revenue can not confirm any amount as they say they would have to look at each tax return individually to do this. Therefore if this is true how on earth can anyone say with any certainty that EU immigrants pay more into the system than they get out…what figures are they using and what is being left out….can anyone clear this up as the inland revenue does not have the answer