BBC Question Time, factchecked

Published: 4th Nov 2016

What does the High Court’s Article 50 ruling mean for Brexit?

“This judgment today has caused a great deal of concern. I think it’s quite significant for a number of reasons. But it’s not significant in that it will stop us from leaving the European Union”

Lisa Nandy MP, 3 November 2016

Ms Nandy is referring to the High Court judgment on Brexit handed down by the Lord Chief Justice yesterday. It’s correct that it’s significant, and it’s correct that it doesn’t directly stop us from leaving the European Union. Whether it might indirectly lead to Brexit happening differently or not at all is a separate question that depends on politics.

The case is clearly significant in terms of the legal issues at stake, with academics commentating on it even before it had finished. Often a single judge will hear a High Court case, but the Article 50 challenge was overseen by three of the most senior: the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, and a judge from the Court of Appeal. They described the case of one of “general constitutional importance”.

The legal question for the court was whether the government can use its ‘prerogative powers’ to trigger Article 50 and start the process of leaving the EU.

The judges decided that UK constitutional law doesn’t allow that.

It follows that Parliament must pass a law in order to enact Article 50 and leave the EU, although the court didn’t spell this out.

Whether that law is likely to be passed is a matter of political judgement.

A draft law can be amended. That means MPs (and Lords) have the opportunity to give the government instructions. Parliament will now be much more involved in how Brexit plays out than it might have been, had the government been able to trigger Article 50 on its own.

The government has appealed the decision. Its appeal is likely to skip a step and go directly to the Supreme Court, where all 11 justices will hear it.

EU staff at Great Ormond Street hospital

“25% of all staff who are clinicians [at Great Ormond Street] and 24% of all research staff come from non-British EU countries.”

BBC Question Time audience member, 3 November 2016

There are figures to show this for doctors, but we’re still trying to track down the evidence on research staff.

Almost 13% of Great Ormond Street hospital's total full time equivalent (FTE) staff were from the rest of the EU, as of September 2015. The same applies to 23% of its doctors and 17% of all doctors and nurses (‘clinical staff’).

An article from the Health Service Journal had similar findings earlier this year, and also reported nearly a quarter of research staff at Great Ormond Street were citizens of other EU countries. We haven’t been able to back this up, so we’re getting in touch with the publication.

How does this compare nationally?

In June 2016 5% of all NHS FTE staff in England were from the EU, or almost 56,000 people. In London it was much higher at 11% or just over 19,000.

However, all these figures come with a health warning.

NHS staff report their own nationality and this can range from the country of their birth to the country they have most cultural affinity with. NHS Digital, which publishes the information, also warns that nearly 100,000 NHS staff records don’t contain useful data on nationality because staff either aren’t asked to provide it or choose not to.

Update 4 November 2016

We received more recent data from NHS Digital on the proportion of staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital who reported they were from other EU countries.

In June 2016 14% of all staff at the hospital were from other EU countries. This is the proportion of individual people employed rather than FTE however. The same was true for 23% of doctors and 18% of all clinical staff (doctors, nurses and health visitors).

The UK’s trade with the USA

“America is our most important ally, the most important country that we have to work with, both in terms of our prosperity, as our second largest trading partner, it’s the largest economy in the world, it’s vitally important to our security. So whoever is installed in the White House, we’re going to have to work with them.”

Sajid Javid, 3 November 2016

There are three claims here. One about the USA’s importance as a trading partner, one about the size of its economy, and one about its importance as a military and diplomatic ally.

The USA is the UK’s second largest trading partner

It’s correct that the US is the UK’s second largest trading partner after the EU, if you combine together the value of imports and exports.

America is also the UK’s second largest export market. It accounted for 19% of the value of UK exports in 2016/17, second only to the EU as a whole, which bought 44% of UK exports.

It's also the second largest import market in 2016/17. 11% of the value of our imports came from the US, compared to 53% from the rest of the EU.

The USA is the first or second largest economy in the world...

...depending on how you measure it.

If you measure GDP in terms of the dollar value of the economy, the US is the largest economy in the world.

If you measure GDP in terms of what those dollars can buy you in that country - what’s called purchasing power parity (PPP) - then the US is the second largest, after China.

The US and the UK have a so-called ‘special relationship’

It’s often said that the UK and the USA have a ‘special relationship’ when it comes to foreign affairs, and statements from both governments often re-assert this. Chatham House, a think tank, has said that although the meaning and implications of the ‘special relationship’ are often debated in the UK, they are unquestioned in mainstream US politics.

The relationship between UK security and our relations with the US is a complex issue, and not something we can write about conclusively.

The cost of public inquiries

“People keep citing the cost of Chilcot at £13 million and Leveson at £5 million”

David Dimbleby, 3 November 2016

Both figures are correct. The Iraq Inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, spent just over £13 million over the eight years it was in action. The Leveson Inquiry into press culture and standards, back in 2011 and 2012, came in at about £5.4 million over roughly a year.

Costs aren’t seen as a bad thing by everyone. One audience member responded to these figures by saying “what price justice?”.

Staff costs are the biggest expense in inquiries like these. Almost two thirds of the £13 million in Chilcot went on people: mainly on staff doing secretarial work and on paying the committee leading the Inquiry. Similarly, over two-thirds of the Leveson costs went on staff and lawyers.

The cost of public inquiries varies a lot. By far the most expensive in recent years was the Bloody Sunday Inquiry from 1998 to 2010, which cost £192 million. Nearly £100 million of that went on legal representation. As the Chair of that Inquiry said afterwards: “lawyers are expensive; very expensive”.

Most inquiries don’t cost anywhere near that but several have gone some way over the £13 million spent on Chilcot. A few years ago the government published a list of inquiry costs since 1998, so it’s easy to compare them.


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