George Orwell famously wrote that “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Having lived through the Scottish independence referendum, it is hard to believe that less than two years on from that experience the people of the UK are having to endure another society defining political event based on populist fantasies, downright lies, and, this time, the ‘pure wind’ of the Leave Campaign.
While having the chutzpah to accuse the Remain campaign of being ‘Project Fear’, the Leave Campaign’s ‘Project Fantasy’ peddles outrageous untruths, even as they attack economists and businessmen who raise justifiable concerns about what might happen if Britain leaves the EU.
This leaflet came through my door and my initial reaction was to tear it up, such was my exasperation with both the format of the leaflet and its content. This leaflet by the Leave Campaign is designed to purposefully mislead people by representing bogus statistics as official ‘facts’, and remote possibilities (i.e. the prospect of Turkey joining the EU) as absolutes. The use of the phrase “official information” gives the impression that the “Referendum Communication” could be either from the Electoral Registration office at the local council or the Electoral Commission.
New Countries Joining the EU
The claim that a whole slew of countries including Turkey are “set to join” the EU is bogus and has been shown to be so. (See BBC’s ‘Reality Check’ on this subject). We can only guess at the reasons for the inclusion of Syria and Iraq on the map.
Never once does the Leave Campaign literature mention the UK’s veto power to block new members from joining—a veto power that only the UK’s EU membership gives us. Nor does it highlight, as the BBC’s ‘Reality Check’ notes, that Turkey has only satisfied the EU rules in 1 out of 35 areas necessary for it to join. It is ironic that the Leave Campaign should neglect to mention the UK’s veto power on other countries joining the EU given Charles De Gaulle’s veto of Britain’s application to join the then EEC in 1963 and 1967. The veto power exists, it has been used before, and there is nothing preventing the UK or other EU member countries from vetoing any other potential members in future.
If you google ‘Countries joining the EU’ the first result is an advert from the Leave Campaign which states: “Turkey IS Joining The EU – Their population is 76 million”. The fear that the 76 million figure seems designed to conjure up is that all 76 million citizens of Turkey would suddenly decide to move to the UK. “This is not good news for the UK,” the Leave Campaign thoughtfully adds for those of us clearly too confused to be able to put two and two (0r 76 million and 64 million) together.
See BBC’s ‘Reality Check‘ on the likely time frame for the other four countries to become EU members.
One of the most important points about the UK’s veto is that we would lose the ability to block countries joining if we left the EU. Why does this matter you might ask if we’re outside the EU anyway? Because if we want to be outside the EU but still retain access to the Single Market (or any half-decent trade relationship with the biggest market for British trade and financial services), then we would still, as the FT’s Martin Wolf notes, find it hard to avoid the obligation of accepting free movement of people as Norway and Switzerland have to do.
The Leave Campaign’s Misleading £350 Million Figure
Plastered on the Leave Campaign’s Battle Bus and its leaflets is the claim that the UK sends £350 million to Brussels each week. Conservative MP, Dr Sarah Wollaston was so incensed by the Leave Campaign’s argument that £350 million more per week could be spent on the NHS if the UK chose to leave that she has now switched from supporting Leave to supporting Remain.
There are several independent fact checking or neutral sites including BBC Reality Check, Fullfact.org, and the financial blog by Martin Lewis where accurate figures on how much we actually send to the EU can be found. To briefly sum it up, £350 million represents the £18 billion notional annual fee which we would have paid prior to Margaret Thatcher securing a budget rebate in the 1980s, so we actually have to pay £13 billion or about £250 million per week. However, this doesn’t take into account the money which the EU spends in the UK such as through programmes which help farming and poor communities. Thus, the net contribution that the UK makes is around £8.5 billion or £163 million per week. Quite a difference from the £350 million figure peddled by Leave.
For the Leave Campaign to claim that £350 million would be available for NHS spending if we left the EU is especially contemptible because, as already mentioned, this amount also includes the rebate and EU spending in the UK, which we would no longer receive after Brexit.
The fact that Leave campaigners are continuing to use the £350 million figure illustrates their utter contempt for the truth and for British voters, in what will probably be the most important decision we ever make – electorally or otherwise.
Main image courtesy of Abegum
David Miles is a Carnegie Scholar at the University of St Andrews researching American and German constitutionalism. He is a contributor at the Scotsman, Daily Beast, and Huffington Post, and is Managing Editor of Global Politics.