We Fact Check The EU Referendum Arguments So You Don't Have To
The Debrief: Has the debate about the EU Referendum left you unsure who to believe? We spoke to key figures on both sides and fact checked everything they said to help you work out who's being straight up about Brexit.
These interviews on EU Referendum were all conducted before the brutal and tragic murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, in the weeks running up to the EU referendum. Out of respect for Jo we delayed publication until both the Leave and Remain campaign had resumed following a short suspension because of her death.
The long-awaited and much anticipated vote on the EU referendum will take place this Thursday. By the early hours of Friday morning it’s likely that we’ll know whether our country has decided to stay in or leave the European Union. David Cameron has said that, in the event of a Leave vote, aka Brexit, he will activate Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. This will begin the process of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. We will not cease to be a member immediately, however, as it’s the process of leaving will be allowed two years to complete – there will be lots of negotiations back and forth. Once Article 50 is brought into effect we can’t go back.
This particular political campaign has been politics at it’s very worst: incredibly important, seriously dry, very complicated and really jargony.
The truth, which few politicians would like to admit, is that nobody knows exactly what life in Britain would look like outside the EU – this isn’t an argument about economics it’s about ideology. We did a quick straw poll on Twitter and asked you what you thought about the referendum, one reader said ‘leaving the EU is just pandering to individual self-interest & deregulation’, another responded that they felt ‘the Leave campaign had been blatantly manipulating facts and figures’ while someone else said ‘to be really honest I don’t understand why we are having this vote or what exactly it is I am voting on’.
For that reason, we decided to speak to key politicians on both sides of the debate. We interviewed them and then fact checked everything they said in order to help you make up your mind.
Brexit: pros and cons...
First up: the case for voting to remain in the EU
Nick Clegg, Former Deputy Prime Minister & Leader of the Liberal Democrats
I met with Nick at the Liberal Club in Westminster. It’s a grand old building built with white stone that seems to have a Teflon-like quality, never suggesting it’s been pounded by years central London traffic fumes. Inside, I quickly discover that there’s no WIFI however there is orange juice served in champagne glasses which I drink while waiting to speak to Clegg - the really nice man that everyone loves to hate.
Clegg is giving a speech, coming out and nailing his colours to the mast in the EU Referendum debate. He speaks passionately for about 45 minutes about why he thinks Britain should vote to remain in the European Union – he talks about history and community as well as the economy. I was immediately taken aback by how charismatic he was, how passionate and energised. After his speech I sat down with him. One of the first things he tells me is that, EU Referendum aside, he’s more anti-establishment now than he’s ever been, convinced that our own political systems in this country need reform from within.
Nick says: ‘we live in a world where you can’t control everything on your own – movement of criminals and terrorists, climate change, global economy…we get more stuff done together than we do on our own.’
The Debrief says: It’s complicated. Many security experts oppose Britain leaving the EU because they think that leaving would mean cutting security ties with other nations and impair intelligence sharing. There is an EU-wide agency called Europol whose job it is to fight crime and terrorism across the EU. There is also something called the Prum Convention which is an agreement on sharing DNA, fingerprint and vehicle information about suspected criminals. However, ‘outers’ argue that it would be easier to deport and refuse entry to EU citizens if we were no longer an EU member.
Nick says: 'while the EU may not be perfect ‘if it didn’t exist you’d probably have to invent something similar…’
The Debrief: We are in unchartered territory here. Only one country has ever left the EU – that was Greenland, over thirty years ago. If we do leave, then we will have to negotiate trade deals with other EU states in order for us to continue importing their goods without charges and vice versa.
Nick says: ‘both the head of EasyJet and head of Ryanair have said Brexit could affect flight costs’
The Debrief says: Nick’s right – both EasyJet and Ryanair have said fares may increase and expressed concern. In 1992 the EU created a system for air travel which meant that airlines from within the union could operate freely between other member countries. This is what lead to the low cost airlines we know so well today to take over more traditional national state-owned airlines. According to the BBC air fares have fallen by about 40% since the EU created this, often referred to as the single market. If we do vote to leave the EU, the impact on air travel will completely depend on what negotiations are had. It’s also thought that the pound will become weaker if we leave which would make flights with foreign airlines more expensive, relatively speaking, than they are now.
Nick says: 'Britain has never truly been ‘sealed off’ from Europe…'
The Debrief says: that's true – we’ve always traded with Europe (when we weren’t fighting wars with other European countries about land). The EU began life in 1952 and was intended to prevent future wars by giving European nations shared economic and political institutions. Britain joined in 1973 but has always pulled back – we didn’t join the euro for instance, because the pound has always been so strong. Nor did we not agree to something called Schengen which means people can travel freely without passports because we wanted to maintain our own borders. Basically – we’ve always been at the table but we don’t order from the set menu.
Former Labour Leader Ed Miliband and Labour’s Shadow Minister for Young People, Gloria de Piero
Ed and Gloria were already at the Labour Party’s Westminster headquarters when I arrived. The building is in the heart of Westminster, overlooking the Thames which is what separates it from Vote Leave’s HQ on the opposite side. We were all there as part of a Facebook live broadcast intended to get young people to register to vote before the deadline. Ed seems relaxed about the whole thing. ‘Don’t overthink it’ he keeps saying, before removing his tie and beginning the live broadcast. He also had an almost-empty packet of Trebor Extra Strong mints with him, which I think we can all agree are far superior to chewing gum. He offers me one which I don’t take. Once the Facebook live is over we pile into a small room and settle in to do this interview, three or four Labour staffers pile into the room and sit facing us.
Gloria says: 'this comes down to things that affect our day to day lives - like mobile roaming charges….'
The Debrief says: on mobile roaming charges the EU has brought in regulation which will see all roaming charges for member states abolished from 2017. However, nobody knows whether or not British customers will benefit from this or not if we do leave. That would have to be decided after the vote and it could, in theory, go either way.
Ed says: 'younger people don’t remember a time before the European Union, the fall of the Berlin wall, for instance. It’s not a given that we can work and study in Europe.'
The Debrief says: two years ago voters in Switzerland voters, concerned about rising immigration, supported a proposal to limit the number of workers coming into the country from the European Union. This effectively abandoned their commitment to free movement of people which is one of the founding principles of the EU. As a result, Swiss universities were blocked from research projects and denied access to the Erasmus exchange programme. It’s possible that the same would happen to British students but, again, it would depend on the negotiations which took place after the vote.
Gloria and Ed say: 'the EU has done all sorts of good for us – the fact that we have workers’ rights, paid holiday leave, maternity leave, laws on sex discrimination and gender equality is all down to the EU. Gloria says these rights are not guaranteed.'
The Debrief says: on holiday pay it’s true that the EU has done a lot to protect workers’ rights. We are entitled to five weeks and three days of paid holiday a year in the UK. The European minimum was set at four weeks in 1998 as part of the Working Time Directive. This also stated that we should work no more than a 48-hour week. Those who want to remain in the EU argue that this could be threatened but that would depend whether this was one of the European laws we decided to do away with. Once again, the truth is that we don’t know for sure.
On maternity leave and gender equality it’s also true that the EU has done a lot of good things for us. The right of part-time workers (the majority of whom are women) to join company pensions schemes came about because of a ruling made by the European Court OF Justice. They said that excluding part-time workers constituted sex discrimination.
The Treaty of Rome (1958) forced all EU member states to commit to making sure that ‘men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.’ This was reinforced by the EU’s 1975 Equal Pay Directive, the European Court of Justice has since continued to clarify and update this legislation.
It’s also true that maternity leave is guaranteed by EU Law which states that women must get 14 weeks paid leave. However, the UK’s statutory period of 52 weeks paid leave is actually longer and you could argue we’ve been more progressive than the EU there.
The truth is that European laws such as these could, in theory be revoked if we did vote to leave but a government would have to make the controversial decision to undermine women’s rights like that. It’s completely possible, however as such rights would no longer be enshrined by EU law.
Ed says: 'if we aren’t at the table of the European Union we can’t influence their decisions when it comes to austerity measures or climate change policy.'
The Debrief says: if we do leave then we won’t have any influence over EU law or decision making. However, in terms of trading with Europe, as well as travelling and working there we will have to follow their rules.
And now: the case for voting for Brexit
Suzanne Evans is the Deputy Chairman of UKIP. She’s also on the board of the Vote Leave campaign
Vote Leave’s offices are just over the road from Parliament. From their windows you can see the back end of the House of Terrace as well as the terrace which runs along the river. In contrast their corner of Westminster is all glass and stainless steel, the Leave movement are housed by a gleaming high rise building. As I make my way there to meet UKIP’s deputy chairman, Suzanne, it begins to rain, getting heavier and heavier. As I wait for somebody to come down and get me from reception Boris Johnson emerges from the lift and sits opposite me.
I meet Suzanne in a quiet room as the sky opens up and chucks its very worst down. It’s now so dark outside that it could be 10pm. I make jokes that this is a pathetic fallacy, an omen. Suzanne says there’s something rather ‘majestic’ about weather like this.
Suzanne says: '60% of our laws aren’t made here'
The Debrief says: the figures about how much UK law comes from the EU vary really widely. It’s actually pretty difficult to get a definitive answer because not all EU law affects us and not all EU law need a new piece of legislation. You could argue that putting a figure on it is actually pretty meaningless.
According to the House of Commons Library, who freely admit that there is no completely accurate way to make the calculation, found that between 1993 and 2014 Parliament passed 945 Acts of which 231 implemented EU obligations of some kind. During the same period Parliament also passed 33,160 Statutory Instruments (more jargon, sorry. This is basically just another word for legislation), 4,283 of which we had to put through because of the EU. If you put these two figures together and divide by the total number of laws passed, then the EU actually only influenced 13% our laws between 1993 and 2014.
The EU makes laws about industry, agriculture and commercial stuff. It also has an input on trading and competition between different businesses. As mentioned above the Union’s laws on employment have had a big impact on our lives, they also have a lot to say about climate and environmental issues.
The EU has some control over tax policy, such as VAT – which is why Cameron and Osborne had to go to the EU before they could agree to scrap the tampon tax. However, because the UK is not in the Eurozone the EU has no authority over government spending or financial policy. They also have nothing whatsoever to do with policy and law making on crime, education or healthcare.
Suzanne says: ‘the EU is stopping us from trading with other countries’
The Debrief says: it’s true that the UK can’t negotiate our own trade deals with countries the EU deals with. However, we can still trade elsewhere and have recently signed trade deals with China recently for billions of pounds.
As a member of the EU we are also part of the world’s largest economic bloc (this is an agreement between different governments about trade). This means we benefit from free trade deals with over 50 countries. The EU is also currently negotiating trade agreements with the US, Australia and Japan.
Basically, in the EU we can trade freely with Europe and build relationships with other countries outside it.
Suzanne says: ‘we don’t know ‘how much more power and money [the EU] will take from our government… we don’t know how many more people will come from other countries…’
The Debrief says: the EU cannot just take power or money from us. On immigration - all figures about how many people will come here are estimates. The Office for National Statistics and Migration Watch have come up with some pretty well-researched predictions.
Suzanne says: ‘our immigration system isn’t fair and we are saying no to people from Australia and Africa’
The Debrief says: as a member of the EU we are signed up to the ‘free movement of peoples’ which means that anyone from another member state can come here. It’s true that people from non-EU countries are subject to a different system and there are people who want to remain in the EU and reform our immigration system.
However, if you look at the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics you’ll see that the most popular country which people migrated to Britain from in 2013 was actually China. 46,000 people came from China that year. The second most popular was Spain, with 33,000 people arriving from there. Spain was closely followed by India then came Australia with 29,000 people, Poland with 27,000, France with 22,000 and the USA with 20,000.
Suzanne says: ‘the head of British Airways has said the cost of flights will be fine because it’s set by market demand’
The Debrief says: as you’ll have read above this really depends. Leaving the EU could affect the strength of the pound which could make flights more expensive for us, it could also mean that oil became more expensive if the pound became weaker against the dollar.
Suzanne says: ‘we definitely won’t need visas to travel to Europe if we leave - dozens of countries have visa free access to the EU’
The Debrief says: once again, this depends. If we did leave the EU we would have to make new deals with it. It is possible that we would have to apply for visas to work in Europe if we leave.
Suzanne says: ‘we’ll definitely still be able to participate in the Erasmus programme if we leave – Turkey isn’t a member of the EU and they’re allowed…’
The Debrief says: as above – not necessarily true that we’ll be able to participate in the Erasmus. See Switzerland.
Suzanne says: ‘if we leave the EU we would save enough money to pay off everyone’s tuition fees in two years… ‘
The Debrief says: Firstly – there is no suggestion that getting rid of tuition fees is the policy of anyone who’s campaigning to leave Europe so this was a rather odd thing to say. Leave campaigners have said that we send £350 million a week to Brussels but experts have said that this figure is misleading and concluded that leaving Europe would not mean we had it in our pockets to spend.
Suzanne says: ‘life will be better outside the EU – unemployment is high in the Eurozone as is the cost of housing, while wages are low. If we leave it will be easier to get a job and get on the housing ladder’
The Debrief says: Ok – firstly UK unemployment is the lowest it’s been since 2005. The housing market is inflated because we haven’t built enough houses and sold off a fair bit of our social housing – which has nothing to do with the EU. Our population is also ageing which means people are staying in their homes for longer because they are living longer, so homes aren’t becoming available for younger generations.
Suzanne herself is actually a buy-to-let landlord, which she doesn't mention here. We're pretty sure they haven't helped the housing crisis. If we leave the EU there is some suggestion that house prices would fall, however, so in that respect it might be easier to buy.
Andrea Jenkyns, MP for Morley and Outwood
Andrea is a new Conservative MP; she was elected at the last general election. I meet with her in her office in Westminster where she offers me Maltesers which I try to resist. Eventually I give in and have one, ‘I have them for breakfast’ she tells me. This is something I can relate to. We sat down on the sofa in her office to talk Europe and I find out she used to work at Greggs.
Andrea says: ‘we need more border control because we aren’t getting people coming here who have the skills that we need. We need more doctors.’
The Debrief says: as this report says the NHS is struggling to recruit people. However, the think-tank IPPR actually warned in 2015 that stricter immigration controls could actually hurt the NHS because it relies on foreign nationals to fill this gap. Also see above about where the people coming to the UK are coming from.
Andrea says: ‘we can’t do trade deals with rising nations because of the EU.’
The Debrief says: we’ve already answered this one. Yes, but that's not the full story.
Andrea says: the EU is killing our high street
The Debrief says: it seems more likely that this is the Internet’s fault.
Andrea says: ‘the tampon tax counldn't be sorted out easily because of the EU’
The Debrief says: yes, the buck did stop with the EU on the tampon tax. But, that said, our government could have raised this with Brussels sooner than they did.
Andrea says: ‘EU officials are unelected’
The Debrief says: the European Commission has 28 members – one person from each European member state. They are sent from their country and are sort of like a civil servant. They do influence laws and budgets. Anything they come up with still has to be passed by the European Parliament, which is directly elected by voters from all EU countries.
Andrea says: ‘leaving the EU is like cutting out the middle man – we give them money so that they give it back to us and tell us how to spend it. We will have more money to invest if we leave the EU.’
The Debrief says: as above, many of the figures being tossed around out there aren’t exactly right. Of what we pay to the EU we get more than half back and we do have some control over how it’s spent. This is because of a rebate Margaret Thatcher secured when she was Prime Minister.
Andrea says: ‘people whose jobs rely on being able to work in and travel to the continent shouldn’t be worried – it will all be fine if we leave.’
The Debrief says: as above, there’s a degree of uncertainty here actually.
Boris Johnson, MP for South Ruislip and Uxbridge, he’s on the Vote Leave campaign committee
We tried to speak with Boris, sadly he wasn't available to speak to The Debrief. However, we manage to find this helpful clip of him making the case for Britain to leave the EU…
Finally: an assessment of the EU from a woman’s perspective
Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party
The Women’s Equality Party, these guys are still relatively new on the scene. However, for a new political party they won a respectable share of the vote earlier this year in London’s mayoral election. The basis of their politics is that women’s equality isn’t a women’s issue but, when women are able to fulfil their potential, everyone benefits from that.
I met their party leader, Sophie Walker, at their HQ in Bermondsey. The Women’s Equality Party aren’t taking a stance one way or the other on the EU referendum, Sophie tells me. What they are doing is taking an objective look at what the EU has done for women in Britain and where it could do more. For them Brexit is a feminist issue.
Sophie says: ‘workplace employment laws achieved as part of Europe need to be protected and built on regardless of whether we leave or stay’
The Debrief says: as discussed above the EU has done a lot for workers – however, more could always be done.
Sophie says: ‘the EU’s directive on equal pay was what forced the UK to introduce its own law on equal pay. Directives on maternity leave and parental leave are also responsible for the legislation we have, as is greater access to support when it comes to workplace discrimination.’
The Debrief says: Once again, Sophie’s spot on here. The EU Pregnant Workers Directive came into force in 1993, it protected women from being dismissed from a job if they fell pregnant. Before this British judges had actually ruled that dismissing a pregnant woman was not sex discrimination. We have the European Court of Justice to thank for this.
Sophie says: ‘both campaigns have failed to speak to women and young people. Housing and living costs are going through the roof as are tuition fees – really important for a generation of voters and it’s not been addressed…’
The Debrief says: This has, largely felt, like a lot of slightly older men who all went to the same school having a massive row. This is, partly, because we still don’t have enough women on the political frontbenches. That said, despite backing Remain and being on the front bench, Theresa May has said very little
The Remain campaign has been headed up by the Prime Minister (a man) and Chancellor (also a man) while Labour’s main Remain voice has been their party leader (also a man). The Leave campaign is headed up by Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart (not a man), but we’ve heard rather a lot on this from Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
This really matters because, according to think-tank British Future, women are twice as likely to say that they are unsure how they will vote on Thursday (20-25 %) than men (10-15%). Women are also less likely to say that they will vote at all (29% compared to 43% of men). So it was really important that women had the facts on this one.
Sophie says: ‘the most important thing you can do is use your vote.’
The Debrief says: However, you do decide to vote the main thing is that you make sure you do vote. A general election takes place every 5 years but this really is a once in a generation decision and, if we do leave, there might not be any going back. The EU isn’t perfect, but then what on earth is?!
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