BBC Question Time, factchecked

Published: 13th Dec 2016

The UK is a major customer for the rest of the EU

“We have a deficit with the rest of the European Union of between £80 and £100 billion a year. We are the major customer for the European Union, of any country in the world. Whilst we’re still in the EU the biggest customer is the US, once we’re out it will be us.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, 22 September 2016

It’s correct that we import between £80 billion and £100 billion more than we export to the rest of the EU each year, according to data from the EU.

The UK imported about £109 billion more in goods than it exported to the rest of the EU in 2015, according to EU data. But it exported about £17 billion more in services than it imported. So overall, the UK ran a trade deficit of about £92 billion.

UK data gives a slightly lower figure, because there are variations in the way data about trade is collected between countries. It says that we exported about £21 billion more in services than we imported, and about £89 billion less in goods. That puts our overall trade deficit with the rest of the EU much lower, at £68 billion.

So the claim is correct, provided you use the EU’s figures.

Both sources agree that the UK’s trade surplus in services and trade deficit in goods have been increased overall in recent years. Our combined trade deficit has been increasing at the same time.

The EU data also shows that the UK is the rest of the EU’s biggest customer, in the sense that more exports from other EU countries go to the UK than anywhere else.

And it’s correct that the USA is currently the rest of the EU’s biggest export market, as we’ve discussed in the past. Outside the EU, the UK would be its biggest export market—assuming that exports levels stay the same.

There’s lots of different ways to look at how much UK-EU trade is worth to each party, and what that means for who is most keen to agree on a trade deal. We’ve written about this in detail here.

UK health spending compared to France and Germany

“We spend a smaller percentage of our GDP on our NHS than do France and Germany...”

Julia Hartley Brewer, 23 September 2016

“We are planning to spend a reducing percentage of our national income on health, at a time where demand is rising rapidly”

Norman Lamb MP, 23 September 2016

It’s correct that the UK spends less on public healthcare as a proportion of GDP than in France or Germany.

In 2015, almost 8% of UK GDP was public spending on health. France’ healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP was just under 9%, and Germany’s was just over. If you add in private healthcare, just under 10% of UK GDP was spending on health, compared to about 11% of France and Germany’s GDP.

And Norman Lamb is also correct that UK spending on health as a proportion of GDP is set to decrease in the future.

Public spending on the NHS across the UK is projected to go from 7.3% of GDP in 2015/16 to to 6.7% of GDP by the end of this parliament.

That’s not because public spending on healthcare is falling, but because it’s predicted that other parts of GDP will grow faster.

Historically high levels of tax?

“we are already taxed to broadly the historic limit of taxation in the economy. If you look at figures going back to the 1970s, the tax take to GDP varies between 34% and 38%. If you look at the Treasury red book we are heading towards the 38% level.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, 23 September 2016

The story Mr Rees-Mogg is telling seems to refer only to government income from taxes, although the figures he’s using seem to be for all government income, which includes things like profits from government-owned companies, or the sale of government assets. We're trying to get in touch with his office.

If he’s referring to all government income, he’s right to say the government’s income is about 36% of GDP—roughly £680 billion—which is forecast to rise to about 38% by the end of the decade.

And it’s true that the government’s total income has varied around 36-38% of GDP in recent years.

However, if we look back as far as the 1970s, as he suggests, the variation is much larger. There have been points where government income as a proportion of GDP has been higher than 40%.

38% government income as a proportion of GDP would be the highest since the 1980s, but not an unprecedented proportion. The government took in receipts worth over 40% of the economy at points in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and was at its peak in the post-war years in the 1940s.

That said, if we just look at taxes, current tax receipts as a proportion of GDP do seem to be close to their historic high-point.

Update 13 December 2016

A reader got in touch to point out that Mr Rees-Moggs use of the word “limit” was contentious, since it implied that it would not be possible for a government to tax any more than that. This is a fair point. In our factcheck, we interpreted “limit” to mean the “upper limit” of previous taxation levels, not the highest level of tax that’s possible.

Can we be part of the single market and control immigration?

“I don't want to see us giving up on membership of the single market.”

Liz Kendall MP

“If you don’t want to give up the single market you give up, therefore, on controlling immigration.”

David Dimbleby

“No, I don't believe that that is the case.”

Liz Kendall MP, 23 September 2016

We don't know what the future arrangements for the UK will be as this will depend on the deal that is reached between the government and the EU.

Controlling EU immigration into the UK is likely to require leaving the single market. Free movement currently applies to countries like Norway and Iceland, who aren’t EU members but are part of the single market, as well as to full members of the EU.

The head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has also reportedly said recently that he “cannot see any possibility of compromising” on the issue of free movement of people.

Liz Kendall actually suggested as much in a speech shortly after the referendum:

“The Government seems to want to strike a deal with the EU that allows us to control free movement of people and yet at the same time somehow retain access to the single market, including keeping passporting in the City.”

“I do not believe such a deal is possible.”

Explaining her view on last night’s programme, she said:

“Let's not give up on an ambitious negotiating strategy which allows us to stay in the single market and make some changes to freedom of movement, which is really why most people voted for Leave.”


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