Boris Johnson Brexit bus lie

The Boris Johnson Brexit Bus Lie:

The Boris Johnson Brexit bus lie that the NHS would get an extra £350m a week was one of the most contentious issues of the 2016 EU referendum campaign. Along with “Turkey is joining the EU” the claim that the UK sends £350m a week to the EU and that money could instead be spent on the NHS created much debate during and after the referendum result.

On the side of the Brexit bus:

During the 2016 referendum campaign Boris Johnson and Michael Gove used the Vote Leave campaign bus publicise the lie with “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead”. Johnson and other Leave campaigners claimed that the £350m figure represented funds that the UK does not have control over as a result of having to pay for membership of the EU.

 

Why is the £350m a week for the NHS a lie?

 

The Boris Johnson Brexit bus lie of  £350 a week for the NHS is misleading and false for two reasons. Firstly the figure does not include the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher which is taken off the UK’s membership fee before it is paid to the EU and secondly it does not allow for any funding that flows back from the EU (e.g. income for farmers as part of the Common Agriculture Policy).

 

What does the UK Statistics Authority say?

 

The UK’s independent Statistics Authority said the EU membership fee of £19 billion a year, or £350 million a week, is “not an amount of money that the UK pays to the EU each year”. They estimate that the figure of £350m is around what the UK would pay if it did not have the rebate. They put actual figure as around £250 million a week, but of course even some of this money comes back to the UK is the form of funding. Wales for example, is a net beneficiary of EU membership because of poverty and its weak economy.

Table 1

UKs EU membership fee
Image Source: Fullfact.org

Wales and the EU bus lie:

 

For Wales the Boris Jonson Brexit bus lie is even more misleading because Wales receive £245 million more from the EU than it contributes. Wales gets money from the EU to invest in universities, industry and infrastructure in response to the economic imbalance. Wrexham for example received £24m in EU funds for the Entrepreneurship Support scheme to help business leaders achieve commercial success and create jobs in Wales.

£24m EU funds for Wrexham

Westminster funds London at a higher rate per head than Wales, but because of the EU’s policy to encourage equality Wales receives a bigger share from the EU. However, the Westminster government’s own estimates project that £5bn will be lost to the Welsh economy if the UK leaves the EU and this will be much worse if the UK leaves without a deal.

What has Boris Johnson said about the bus lie since the referendum?

 

Almost the immediately after the referendum many Leave politicians admitted there was no £350 million a week going to the NHS and that even if there was a Brexit bonus it could not all be allocated to the NHS. Despite this in September 2017 Boris Johnson revived the £350 million claim in a 4,000-word essay in the Daily Telegraph.

This prompted a critical response from Sir David Norgrove, UK Statistics Chief, who said the then foreign secretary’s use of the £350 million figure was “a clear misuse of official statistics”. In his response to UK Statistics criticism of his use of the figure Johnson said his words had been interpreted in a crassly simplistic way and that it was a “wilful distortion”. In other words Johnson was admitting that the Brexit bus claim was untrue all along.

What next?

Given that Boris Johnson’s defence of using the Brexit bus lie is that it wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously it raises the question of whether he is suitable to be prime minister of the UK. The danger is that a Johnson premiership will further undermine the union by increasing disillusionment with the Westminster government’s ability to represent the interests of people in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

For our other posts about Brexit, including why referendum can be misused, go to our Stop Brexit menu page.

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  • About the author:  Neal Cole is a digital marketer who has worked in a number of European cities including Paris and London, and also in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.   He is the founder of Conversion Uplift Ltd which provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as  Manchester Airport Group Online, Hastings Direct, Deezer.comVery.co.uk,  and Bgo.com.