Sunday, May 15, 2016

Worst of both words: The "Zombie myths" of the EU campaign


"ZOMBIE MYTHS" WHICH REFUSE TO DIE

The British people are entitled to have their intelligence respected by both sides in the EU referendum, and by the press, and to be provided with full and balanced information to make a decision on how to vote. With a few honourable exceptions in all three cases, this is not happening.

Some people are bending over backwards to be fair, but the amount of misinformation which has been circulated is deeply depressing. What is even more depressing is that some myths which most intelligent people on both sides who have been following the campaign with anything remotely resembling an open mind know to have been exploded refuse to die and keep getting circulated.


OPINION OR FACT?

Many of the issues in the EU referendum which are fiercely contested boil down to matters of opinion and nobody can be absolutely certain who is right. We do not know what would have happened to our economy, or to peace and security, were Britain not in the EU. It is possible for honest and intelligent people to disagree about what the impact on growth, prices and family incomes would be if Britain left the EU, and what diplomatic consequences might follow a vote to leave - whether, for example, France would be more likely to tear up the Le Touquet agreement.

In this article I am not referring to differences of opinion. This post is about claims which are either directly wrong in fact, statements for which I can find no evidence whatsoever, and numbers which are so misleading that genuinely independent experts or more honest people on the same side as those making the claim have disowned them.

And I am making a point of including some myths from both sides.


MYTH 1) - THE EU ACCOUNTS HAVE NOT BEEN SIGNED OFF BY THE AUDITORS FOR 20 YEARS

FACT: AUDITORS SAY "the ECA have signed off the 2014 accounts of the European Union as they have done for every year since 2007."


(The above is a quote from the EU auditors' own website and can be found here.)

It is quite true that the European Union's Auditors have been severely critical of the way substantial sums of EU funds raised from British and European taxpayers have been spent. In the past there was a period when they refused to sign off the accounts.  The European Court of Auditors have repeatedly refused to give EU spending a completely clean bill of health and called for reform - calls which in my opinion should be heeded to a greater extent than they sometimes have been.

However, the auditors have certified the EU's most recent accounts (which are for 2014) and each previous year back to 2007 as having been accurately prepared in accordance with international accounting standards.

A competent "Leave" campaign which studied the Auditors' reports carefully could find a great deal of evidence which could be used to justify savage and completely accurate criticisms of EU spending. But the claim that the accounts have not been signed off for 20 years is not one of them.

I have written about this in more detail here.



MYTH 2) - EU MEMBERSHIP IS WORTH £3000 TO THE AVERAGE BRITISH HOUSEHOLD

FACT: THIS CBI FIGURE WAS SEVERELY CRITICISED BY INDEPENDENT EXPERTS. EVEN PRO-REMAIN FACT CHECKERS HAVE ADVISED THAT IT "should not be used by remain campaigners as a precise measure."

The original CBI paper which produced this figure pulled together a number of research papers, but appeared to suggest at least double the positive impact of EU membership as appeared in any of the papers it claimed to be based on. Channel 4's fact check said that the original report

"doesn’t appear to be a fair reflection of the evidence they themselves have looked at – and the choice of evidence seems partial and one-sided to begin with."

The CBI have republished the study, and the INFACTS pro-remain fact check website suggests that the revised report provides a clearer explanation of how the £3,000 per household figure was put together.

In their opinion it is reasonable as a ball park figure of the current benefits of membership but even they still say it should not be taken as gospel or as a precise figure and advise Remain campaigners against using this number as an estimate of the cost of Brexit.



MYTH 3) - BREXIT WOULD SAVE THE UK £350 MILLION PER WEEK WHICH COULD BE ADDED TO OTHER BUDGETS LIKE THE NHS.

FACT - THIS FIGURE IS MUCH TOO HIGH.

Britain is a net contributor to the EU budget, and you would think that a competent and honest Leave campaign would be able to make  a pretty strong case for Brexit based on the very large amount of money Britain actually does pay them - as I wrote yesterday this is a net figure of about £8.4 billion a year or £161 million per week - rather less than half the figure Vote Leave is quoting.

Any suggestion that £350 million is an accurate estimate of the amount which the government would save from Brexit and that this amount could then be spent on other causes like the NHS is completely and utterly indefensible and I have been very disappointed to see people who ought to know better repeating it.



MYTH 4) BRITAIN IS ALWAYS OUTVOTED IN THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

FACT - BRITAIN IS ON THE WINNING SIDE ABOUT 95% OF THE TIME IN VOTES ON THE COUNCIL

It has often been suggested by Leave campaigners that, quote, "The UK is consistently outvoted" or  that "The UK has never been on the winning side when we have challenged the Commission in a vote in the council." Lord Lawson suggested that Britain had voted against items of legislation 72 times in the past 20 years and been outvoted 72 times, figures which are often quoted by Leave supporters as inferring that Britain is outvoted 100% of the time.

That conclusion is not supported by a more complete description of the facts. Since European Council voting figures have been published from 1999, the UK has voted “no” to legislation on 57 occasions. It has voted “yes” to 2,474 acts and abstained from voting 70 times.

In other words on successful acts the UK has been in the majority abut 95% of the time, abstained about 3% of the time, and been outvoted 2% of the time.

This figure is not perfect either because we do not have complete statistics on proposals which were not successful, and particularly not those which were withdrawn before being put to a vote, but it iks certainly far more representative of the true position than the "Leave" figures claiming Britain is outvoted every time.


MYTH 5) - THREE MILLION JOBS WOULD GO IF BRITAIN LEFT THE EU

FACT - THREE MILLION JOBS ARE LINKED TO TRADE WITH THE EU, BUT THEY WOULD NOT ALL BE LOST IF BRITAIN LEAVES

Leave supporters who have said that three million jobs are linked to Britain's exports to other EU member states are correct, that is the best estimate of the number of jobs involved. Those who have gone one stage further and suggested that we might lose all of those three million jobs in the event or Brexit are not right, however. We might lose some of those jobs but certainly not all of them.


MYTH 6) - TURKEY WILL JOIN THE EU SOON

FACT - WE ARE YEARS AWAY FROM THAT BEING POSSIBLE

First, it has been agreed that no further countries will join the EU before 2020.

Second, applicant countries to join the EU have to pass certain tests covering a whole range of issues such as human rights and Turkey is nowhere near passing many of the relevant criteria. And for Turkey to get anywhere near to meeting those criteria while their current President remains in office would require a range of U-turns from him about as extreme as Ken Livingstone joining the Conservative Friends of Israel.

Third, every EU member state has to agree to the accession of a new member and the relevant treaty has to be ratified by each country's parliament as well as the government. Assuming that Britain does not veto Turkey's entry, they would still have to persuade Greece, whose enmity to Turkey is legendary, and Cyprus, who they invaded less than 50 years ago, not to veto their accession



OTHER STATEMENTS MADE FAR TOO OFTEN AND LACKING CREDIBILITY:


7) "VALDIMIR PUTIN SUPPORT BREXIT"

FACT - he seems to be almost the only world leader who has not expressed an opinion.

This is about the only remotely controversial dubious claim from the Remain side which the Leave campaign does not usually challenge, but the Russian Embassy certainly does challenge it quite vigorously whenever a prominent person makes the claim.

An appropriate response might be the late Sir Ian Richardson's line,

"You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment."

I suspect Putin may indeed be secretly hoping for a Brexit vote, but if so, he appears to have enough sense to realise that saying his views about it in public would probably have exactly the opposite effect on the vote. Not one of those who claim that Putin wants Britain to leave the EU has ever been able to produce actual evidence that he has said so.


8) "THEY SUPPORTED EURO ENTRY!" (when said of people who didn't)

Just about every prominent person or organisation who supports "Remain" and was out of short trousers or existed at the turn of the millennium has been accused by the "Leave" camp of supporting British entry to the Euro at that time and of being "Wrong then, Wrong now."

Which is a perfectly fair point when it is made against people who really were in favour of scrapping the pound for the Euro.

Less so when it is made - as it often has been - against people who fought tooth and nail to keep the pound!

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