Wollaston puts bomb under Vote Leave’s post-truth politics

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 09.06.2016

Sarah Wollaston, until now a Brexiteer, has slammed Leave camp’s “shameful” claims about the NHS and “financial lie” that we send the EU £350 million a week. But there’s fat chance that Vote Leave will listen. The Leave camp is so deeply invested in these untruths that it seems to have decided that the only option is to shout them ever louder in the belief that it can still dupe the public.

Wollaston, chair of the Commons Health Select Committee and a former GP, switched sides in the referendum as a result of disgust at what her colleagues were doing. Here’s what she wrote in today’s Times:

Sarah wollaston

Vote Leave is, indeed, lying by saying we send £350 million a week to Brussels. This is not only untrue, because it does not take account of the discount – or “rebate” – that Margaret Thatcher secured on our contribution. Peddling the untruth after respected voices – including the chair of the UK Statistics Authority – have highlighted the error is dishonest.

And yet, key Vote Leave figures continue to repeat the error. Michael Gove said this many times on Sky news last week. InFacts has already written that he is either ignorant or lying.

Boris Johnson made similar claims on last Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. The key exchange went as follows:

“Imagine …. I gave you £350 …. Then … next year you gave me back 60 or so then you decided that you were going to spend some of it …on my behalf… Whatever priorities you chose, they might not be my priorities, you decide you’re going to spend it on what you thought were good things for me, and then you gave about half of it away and we never saw it ever again.”

There are four things wrong with this.

  • We never give £350 million to Brussels – because of the rebate.
  • If the “60” is supposed to be the rebate, it is the wrong figure. It is more like £100 million a week – and, of course, it is never given back because it is never sent.
  • The rebate is not spent by the EU on our behalf by Brussels because the EU never gets it.
  • The EU does spend another £110 million or so on our behalf but it is wrong to say it is not on our priorities. Most of the money is spent on farmers, research and poor regions such as Northern Ireland – all things that Vote Leave itself says it would want to continue spending money on.

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What makes Vote Leave’s claim especially shameful is that Brexit could easily trigger a recession, meaning there would be less money to spend on the NHS not more. As Wollaston put it: “Far from a leave dividend there would be an economic penalty and the NHS would suffer the consequences”.

Contacted for comment, a Vote Leave spokesman said “You’re an In campaign, you’re a registered In campaign, you know we don’t respond to your requests. Goodbye.”

This quote was inserted shortly after publication.

Edited by Hugo Dixon