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”.
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