Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Worst of Both Worlds Eleven

Yes, we are now up to post eleven in my series of posts each of which highlights outrageous scaremongers, untruths of arrogance from both sides: I make a point of including something from both Remain and Leave in each of these posts.

I have material for at least one more article like this one just from the increasingly silly things said in the past 48 hours by people on both sides.

As I wrote earlier this evening, the last ten days of the campaign seem to have seen normally sane and sensible people on both sides swept up in a frenzy in which the kindest explanation for some of the things they have written or endorsed is that their normal common sense has deserted them.

The previous post in this series started with some comments about the press, and then criticised first the Remain side and then the Leave side. So on the principle of turnabout, this time I will turn my attention to Leave first, then Remain, and then the press.

1) Leave dodgy claims and scaremongers go into overdrive:

Had it been presented in a more honest way, I would have welcomed the Vote Leave statement "Leave ministers commit to maintain EU funding" as an attempt to spell out answers to some of the important questions voters have been asking about what prominent Leave supporters think the government should do.

Unfortunately this statement is wrong or misleading in several material respects and I am deeply disappointed that ministers I like and respect have put their names to it. Indeed, I was sufficiently annoyed that it took all my willpower not to pick up my postal vote and put an X in the Remain vote on the spot. (I did not do so because I want to make up my mind how to vote on the basis of a positive decision, not in anger.)

It's bad enough that this statement repeats the "£350 million a week" claim that everyone who has been involved in or is following the claim other than the most partisan Leave fanatic knows has been exploded. What turned it from the sort of exaggeration which both sides have used far too much from the sort of insult to the reader's intelligence which I felt like a punch to the gut was that they preceded it with the words "According to the Office for National Statistics."

The Office for National Statistics has specifically stated that this is not the correct figure to use to describe the payments Britain makes to the EU, as you will find confirmed on the website of Full Fact, an independent fact checking charity, here. Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics authority, has also said that it is misleading. Given the high profile criticisms of this statistic I find it utterly preposterous to imagine that whoever drafted this statement was unaware of this.

A wiser campaign would have just quoted the net payment figure, but if they could not bring themselves to drop mention of the misleading £350 million a week number, could they not have spared us the insult to our intelligence of pretending that this number is supported by the Office for National Statistics when we all know ONS has disavowed its use in that way?

That is by no means the only problem with this letter. A few lines later they say that "We cannot count on the rebate. It is negotiated with the other member states."

This is a classic example of being "Economical with the truth" e.g. using a statement which is true but not the whole truth to imply something misleading. In this case the important fact which needs to be included in the whole truth is that Britain has a veto in the discussions on what the rebate should be. That is why nearly thirty years after Mrs Thatcher negotiated it, the rebate is still a significant factor in how much the UK pays.

A third serious error in the Vote Leave statement is the claims it makes about planned tax refund which is simply not true in important material respects. The statement alleges that

"the UK is set to pay out between £7 billion and £43 billion by 2021 in tax refunds to big businesses which have successfully used the European Court and EU law to escape taxes lawfully imposed on them in Britain. If we stay, these bills will be paid for by British taxpayers on P.A.Y.E. instead of that money going to public services. If we Vote Leave, the Government will pass legislation to prevent these payments being made so that taxpayers are not given these huge bills."

As , a QC and tax expert explains on his blog here, this statement contains several errors of fact.

Has the Inland Revenue ever sent you a tax refund after accidentally charging you too much tax? If so, according to Vote Leave's interpretation of the governments' accounts, you are a big business who has used EU law to avoid lawful UK taxes!

* The figures in the UK accounts to which the Vote Leave statement refers covers potential liability for tax refunds to all taxpayers including SMEs and individual people and not just big businesses.

* It includes the liability for potential rebates for all reasons, including overpayments due to HMRC errors, overpayments due to changes in individual or company income, and interest on overpayments. Much of it is nothing to do with attempts by anyone to use "European Court and EU law to escape taxes lawfully imposed on them in Britain."

In other words much of this tax liability is nothing whatsoever to do with the European Union and will not be affected in any way by Brexit.

* Jolyon Maugham also points to explanatory notes by the Auditors which explain that the chances of most of the £43 million ever having to be paid is, quote "remote." The value of these tax rebates is more likely to be between zero and £7 billion than anywhere near £43 billion.

So this part of the latter is another scare story with the most minuscule basis in fact.

2) Remain scares sink to new extremes

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian here, raises the spectre that that if Brexit wins, when it fails to deliver what people think is being promised, the dispossessed who voted for it may be seduced by a new form of Nazism. She writes that

"That moment is fertile for some yet-worse demagogue who calls for throwing out migrants already here. Expect the volume to be raised against “elites” – anti-parliament, anti-politics, bored of democracy itself. Ignite hatred against Europe, blame Brussels for deliberately impoverishing us in revenge, stirring centuries-old enmities.

Blend all that with a little nationalistic leftish populism, not all of it bad: nationalise our utilities and rail, eject foreign owners from key industries and property, pump up armed forces and national pride. These are potent ingredients for militant majoritarianism, blaming minorities and minority opinions. The Human Rights Act is abolished and the BBC absorbed into government. National socialism will no doubt carry a new name – but it’s there in the making."

Polly is of course, not the only person on either side who has taken extrapolating what might happen if the side they do not support wins to absurd levels. I will work my way round to some of the others in the near future in a post to be called, wait for it, Worst of both worlds Twelve.

3) A Final comment - the Press

Amid all the reporting of various hysterical claims, something quite important - Britain winning an important judgement in the European Court of Justice -seems to have hardly been reported.

And in the present febrile atmosphere, rather than being  hailed as an indication of a European institution making a good decision it has at best described as "Remain dodges a bullet" or presented as an argument for leaving that we had to go to the court at all. More on that one tomorrow.

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