Shattering Leave’s ‘Decisive’ Claims

This article deals with the two ‘winning’ claims of the Leave campaign and shows them to be comprehensively untrue. I will not attempt to address any of Leave’s further claims, since they did not materially affect the result.

Let’s start with this very interesting essay by the Leave campaign’s director, Dominic Cummings: Spectator Article – how the Brexit referendum was won

He ‘goes on a bit’ but whatever you think of Leave or the result of the referendum, you have to have some admiration for Cummings and his ‘goal-oriented’ approach to winning. However, his willingness to ‘say what needs to be said to win’ shines through – and this in turn exposes the Leave campaign’s lack of principles.

What is clear from this piece is that Leave concentrated on two important and inaccurate assertions to capture the public mood. The ones which in Cummings’ estimation were decisive are: 1) the extra £350M per week to the NHS (from the big red bus), and 2) the claim that Turkey is about to join the EU, and by inference, that Turkish immigrants were about to flood into the UK.

Looking at these in turn:

1) The NHS £350M meme is one which has been widely discredited and picked apart: even if the UK gave all its ‘savings’ from no longer contributing to the EU to the NHS, it would have less than half the £350M figure available for reallocation:

In practice the figure would be even less, as the other costs of leaving the EU need to be accounted for: such as support for businesses hit by trade tariffs, and of the setting up of UK-based replacements for European regulatory authorities. Indeed, it is likely that there would be no saving whatsoever – but there is simply not enough information on the form of Brexit to say for sure. There are many, many areas where further costs may hide.

2) The problems with the ‘Turkey’ claims are twofold: Firstly, Turkey is not about to join the EU. It is true that it is going through the joining process, but thus far it has made very little progress – and it will take perhaps a generation to get close to meeting the EU’s criteria for membership. This Wikipedia article outlines this – as you will see many areas are highlighted as ‘very hard to adopt’: Accession of Turkey to the EU

I would also make the point that, once Turkey meets the standards for EU membership, freedom of movement should not be a problem, and if there is a problem, Turkey will not meet the standards!

Secondly the EU’s current freedom of movement laws actually protect the UK (while it still retains its own border control). This is explained here:

Directive 2004/38/EC introduces EU citizenship as the basic status for nationals of the Member States when they exercise their right to move and reside freely on EU territory. For the first three months, every EU citizen has the right to reside on the territory of another EU country with no conditions or formalities other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport. For longer periods, the host Member State may require a citizen to register his or her presence within a reasonable and non-discriminatory period of time.

Migrant workers’ right to reside for more than three months remains subject to certain conditions, which vary depending on the citizen’s status: for EU citizens who are not workers or self-employed, the right of residence depends on their having sufficient resources not to become a burden on the host Member State’s social assistance system, and having sickness insurance. EU citizens acquire the right of permanent residence in the host Member State after a period of five years of uninterrupted legal residence.

In summary, anyone from any EU country can go anywhere within the EU for up to 3 months, but after that, if they have no job and they are unable to support themselves then they can be repatriated. The UK government does not at present apply these powers – but that is no fault of the EU. Clearly, this second point allays the fears of UK voters of immigration from all EU states – not just Turkey.

The Remain campaign comprehensively failed to counter the Turkey claim on either ground, but was completely silent on the freedom of movement point. Why? Because Remain was government led, and the government was embarrassed by the fact that it was culpable, not the EU, for its failure to control immigration. Remain had the hubris to think it could win without publicising this fact. This is shockingly negligent.

I believe that I have adequately demonstrated that neither so-called ‘decisive’ argument from Leave bears scrutiny, and each can be comprehensively dismissed as untrue.