I was planning to write a longer, more in-depth piece about my disagreements with Vote Leave, highlighting one last time why I do not think that this Tory-led campaign group has any real legitimacy when it comes to making the case for Brexit. Indeed, as the designation process has worn on, I have persuaded myself that state-support for only one group on each side of the referendum question was bound to corrupt proceedings. Ho hum.
In lieu of a more detailed analysis I present this simple response to a wholly avoidable BBC story about the Vote Leave claim that EU exit will save British tax-payers £350 million per week or £50 million per day. Portentously framed as a “reality check”—the BBC is synonymous with truth and honesty as we all know—the article is mostly reasonable.
I hate that Vote Leave puts serious Brexit campaigners in the position of having to either concede the point about EU payments (I do so willingly and also long before most on the other side had turned their attention to the subject) to the Remainers or fatally damage our own credibility through association with absurd exaggerations. Moreover, the people at the top of Vote Leave are well aware that the £350 million figure is false, but such is their arrogance, the corrections of lowly plebs are fit only to be ignored.
The guilty party on this occasion was Gisela Stuart who said: “Every week we send £350m to Brussels. I’d rather that we control how to spend that money, and if I had that control I would spend it on the NHS”. The substantive political point—that spending and policy priorities should be determined by democratic governments that are accountable to national electorates—is obscured by this nonsense about £350 million, which then, all too predictably, becomes the focus.
The brief explanation that the BBC provides would sit well among the material produced by The Leave Alliance bloggers.
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, which takes the contribution down to £276m a week.
That figure includes £88m a week spent in the UK on things like regional aid and support for farmers. The government could decide after a Brexit that it should take that money away from farmers and give it instead to the NHS, but it might be an unpopular decision in rural areas.
Then there’s another £27m a week that goes to support things like research projects in UK universities and companies.
If we deduct all that we end up with £161m, although even that includes development funding, which counts towards the government’s pledge to spend at least 0.7% of the country’s economic output on development aid.
In fact, one cannot help but wonder where the BBC researchers found their source material.
However, the points that the same article makes about Norway’s contribution to the EU budget are wrong. Norway pays something like half of what Britain pays to the EU per head of GDP to participate in a range of EU programmes including the totemic Single Market.
Claim and counter-claim over figures is exactly the kind of debate that serious leavers hoped to avoid. Leaving the EU is a political decision, not an economic one. Even if leaving the EU ended up costing Britain money, it would be well worth doing. There is no place for Britain in the EU outside of political integration and the euro. We need a new relationship for Britain with the EU, and between governors and the governed. Taking back policy control and giving British voters a far greater say over how and by whom we are governed cannot be gainsayed by the Remainers. There is no good reason to fight on the insecure foundations favoured Vote Leave.
So, there it is, probably rather more mild than I might have otherwise been but, other than for those who are directly involved (Elliott, Cummings, Oxley), Vote Leave is an irrelevance. For all of the extra attention that the media will give the “lead campaign group”, as people start to engage and the debate kicks into a higher gear, Vote Leave will be sidelined. Unless they can come up with something interesting to say, they will not be listened to. There is more accurate information and more entertaining opinion elsewhere.