The EU referendum vote is now one year old, and the decision to leave the European Union continues to shape politics in the UK.
A number of highly influential claims were made around the referendum. Ferret Fact Service has taken a look at a some of the more contentious ones.
Claim: “Lets give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week.” – Vote Leave campaign
The most controversial Brexiter slogan was paraded on the sides of buses across the UK in the run-up to June 23. However, the £350m figure was founded on some pretty shaky maths.
The number is found in the HM Treasury EU finances report, which shows our gross payments estimated as £17.8bn, which works out at £342.3m each week, which Vote Leave rounded up.
This figure is not accurate as it does not take into account Britain’s rebate, negotiated in 1985 by Margaret Thatcher.
Broadly, the UK’s reduction is 66% of the difference between its share of member states’ VAT contributions and its share of EU spending in return. The 2015 rebate was £4.9bn, meaning the net bill for the UK was £12.9bn, working out at less than £250m each week.
Claim: “£4,300: The cost to UK families if Britain leaves the EU” – George Osborne
The then-Chancellor’s claim was based on Treasury research which forecasted a six per cent shrinking of the UK’s economy by 2030, which he claimed would cost each household £4,300. However, this claim is based on the conflation of two very different things: GDP per household and household income.
What the Treasury report suggests is that there would be a drop in GDP per household after the Brexit vote. While the GDP drop does affect household income, its impact is not uniform and does not amount to a decrease in household income.
Recent ONS figures show there has been a squeeze in disposable household income due to inflation, which is linked to the fall in value of the pound since last year’s vote, but there are questions over the accuracy of economic modelling. It is incredibly hard to predict with such accuracy the impact a contemporary decision will have on the British economy in a decade’s time.
Claim: “No deal with the EU would be better than a bad deal” – Theresa May
The Prime Minister’s enduring refrain since the referendum is not quite what it seems. A number of experts have queried the practicalities of a ‘no deal’ scenario. Research from the London School of Economics found that exiting the EU would require the renegotiation of more than 100 trade agreements.
If the UK was to exit without an agreement, then trade would fall back to World Trade Organisation rules. If the UK has not renegotiated deals it would face immediate difficulties over trade. The EU accounts for about 53% of UK imports and 48% of UK exports, and exporters would face tariffs and would no longer benefit from automatic recognition of EU product standards, leading to more potential costs.
Tariffs are not applied evenly. In 2015, the average tariff on agriculture products was 10.7%, compared to a 4.2% average tariff on non-agricultural goods, according to WTO data.
Air travel, emergency healthcare in the EU, the status of EU nationals and expats, the Irish border and financial services (so-called ‘passporting’) could also be among the issues unresolved in a Hard Brexit.
Claim: There can be “no turning back” on Article 50 trigger – Theresa May
It is clear that neither UK government nor the opposition Labour Party has any appetite for reversing the Brexit decision, but the question over whether the UK’s exit could theoretically be reversed remains an open one.
The terms of Article 50 are somewhat vague, which some EU academics believe could leave the door open for a change of heart.
Former British diplomat John Kerr, who drafted Article 50, argues that it could technically be reversed, and this was supported by Donald Tusk, who said it could be “formally, legally” taken back.
However, the UK Supreme Court judgment over Article 50 accepted that the process was irrevocable, and the European Commission said after it is triggered Article 50 “cannot be unilaterally reversed.” It is unclear then exactly what the legality of the UK attempting to reverse Article 50 would be, but there appears very little political will to do so.
Claim: Scotland “could stay” in the EU after UK leaves
This was a theory which was suggested by a number of Scottish nationalists in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. Two-thirds of Scots voted to remain in the EU, and there was talk of a separate deal being negotiated within the UK or, or if Scotland voted for independence, perhaps continuing membership.
Most constitutional and EU experts believe this is practically unlikely. There is no precedent for such a situation, and Scotland would have to separately fulfil the existing membership criteria.
However, it seems likely that an independent Scotland would be well-placed to rejoin the EU if a Yes vote was achieved, with one think tank stating the country was “well qualified for EU membership” and a former WTO chief saying Scotland would have “zero technical problems” rejoining Europe.
Claim: Britain could create nearly 400,000 new jobs in trade deals after Brexit – Change Britain think tank
Reports of the impact of Brexit on employment abounded in the run-up to last year’s referendum.
One such claim from the pro-Brexit Change Britain think tank was that the UK could create nearly £20 billion from extra exports and create 387,580 jobs from leaving the customs union.
The report uses figures from the European Commission in 2012 estimating 16,700 jobs would be created for each billion euros worth of exports to countries outside the EU, then dividing by the UK proportion of extra-EU exports – 14.99%.
Economics professor Jonathan Portes called the report’s figures “entirely fictional statistics” and said they ignored the risks of leaving, while the Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman, described the numbers as “basically junk”.
He argued the report is wrong to assume the UK could get the same trading terms as the EU, despite the fact it is a significantly smaller economic bloc.
Claim: “Turkey (population 76m) is joining the EU” – Vote Leave poster
Fears over immigration made up a significant part of the leave campaign’s strategy. Before the vote, much was made of the application of Turkey to the EU, which would allow its population access to the free movement within member states.
The one problem with this claim? Turkey’s application to the EU has been ongoing for more than 30 years and has stalled until the country fulfils a host of criteria which experts believe it is very far from.
A 2017 referendum handed President Erdogan sweeping new powers and many EU experts believe it will make Turkey’s accession bid even more unlikely.
So while Turkey could join the European Union in the future, the likelihood of it being in the near-future is minute.
Claim: Two thirds of British laws made in Brussels – Business for Britain
Business for Britain, a leave campaign group, released research in 2015 which claims that 65% of the UK’s laws came from Brussels legislation.
Firstly, it is important to note that a 2010 House of Commons report found there was “no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU”.
Estimates vary wildly depending on the source, but Government statistics put the figure at 13.2% between 1992 and 2014. This does not take into account EU regulations which are legally binding without having to pass through national parliaments, so the figure is likely higher.
However, the Business for Britain report was described as “comparing apples with pears” by EU law expert Professor Michael Dougan as it included both legislative EU regulations and non-legislative ones.
Non-legislative laws are large in number as they are one of the main ways EU institutions reach technical administrative decisions. The majority of these ‘EU laws’ have little or no impact on the UK.
Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at email@example.com or join our community forum.
This fact check was also published in the Irish Times.
Lead image thanks to MPD01605, CC BY-SA 2.0, 2nd image thanks to ilovetheeu, CC BY-SA 4.0, 3rd image thanks to Abi Begum, CC BY-SA 2.0.