3 March's BBC Question Time, factchecked

4 March 2016

On the Question Time panel last night were Conservative Dominic Raab, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, UKIP's Louise Bours, journalist Zoe Williams and former footballer Jermaine Jenas.

We've checked their claims on the EU's influence, regulation and small businesses, migrants into Europe, and the higher rate of income tax.  

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European Union

“Whether you’re on the left or the right, I think you should have stronger democratic control over the laws of the land and 60% of them now are made in or derive from the EU.”—Dominic Raab

Counting how many of the UK’s laws originate at EU level isn’t necessarily the most meaningful exercise. It doesn’t consider that some laws have more impact than others. And the answer depends on what exactly you count.

Recent estimates have suggested that over 60% of the “laws of the land” originate in the EU, if you count EU ‘regulations’. These become part of UK law automatically, but may not be important or even relevant to the UK.

If you don’t look at regulations, and only count how many of the laws we pass ourselves derive from the EU, it’s estimated at more like 13%.

We have more detail on the methods behind these numbers in our factcheck.

But whatever the precise proportion, almost everyone agrees that laws passed at EU level have a significant impact on this country.

“The Commission's own advisory group say that their red tape hits small businesses ten times harder than big businesses”—Dominic Raab

It’s wrong to describe this simply as the cost of EU red tape, as it’s referring to both EU and domestic-only regulations. It’s also an old estimate. The cost of red tape could have gone up or down since. Recent drives have sought to reduce regulatory burdens.

An expert group advising the European Commission said in 2007 that “where a big enterprise spends one euro per employee to comply with a regulatory duty a medium-sized enterprise might have to spend around four euros and a small business up to ten euros”.

The report looked at any regulatory requirements placed on businesses in European countries by “public authorities on the basis of a law, decree or similar act”.

It’s a rough calculation. But the report said overall it’s clear that “smaller businesses bear a higher average regulatory burden than larger companies”.

A lot of the costs relating to regulation are fixed, the report said. So it’s unsurprising that small businesses face a heavier burden per employee.


“Rob Wainwright, head of Europol has said we’ve got 5,000 terrorist suspects, or people who have been to terrorist camps, who have been out there and have come back, and they are flowing freely, or at least potentially, because we do not have control of our borders.”—Dominic Raab

“The European Union figures themselves are saying that roughly 5,000 Jihadists have already made their way on to the continent with the migrants/refugees.”—Louise Bours

Up to 5,000 EU nationals could have the potential or intent to carry out Paris-style terrorist attacks, according to the head of the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol.

Rob Wainwright said he thought that roughly between 3,000 and 5,000 EU nationals “have the potential or the intent, if not the capability” to carry out such attacks.

He didn’t say that these were people who’d made their way to Europe with refugees. We’ve asked Europol if it’s able to give us any more detail on the figure.

“The vast majority coming through Calais and through those routes from Syria through the Mediterranean, whether we call them refugees or not, they’re coming here for a better life. They’re what we, in that rather unsavoury phrase, call economic migrants”—Dominic Raab

“We know where the refugees are coming from and we know what they’re fleeing. So the idea that most of them are economic migrants is patently untrue”—Zoe Williams

Most migrants are being accepted as refugees by European countries. But some could be described as “economic migrants” as well, in the sense that they lived in a relatively safe country after fleeing persecution. The limited evidence we’ve seen doesn’t suggest that these are the “vast majority”.

The majority (82%) of migrants arriving in Europe by sea last year were from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea, according to the United Nations. The most recent EU figures say that the vast majority of these people are being granted humanitarian protection.

People’s motivations are complex, though. Many are coming to Europe from “places of first asylum, such as Turkey and Jordan”. That may be why Mr Raab describes them as economic migrants.

Profiles of arrivals on Greek islands in January 2016 showed that around a third of Syrians and almost half of Afghans lived in another country before crossing the Mediterranean, but we aren’t aware of any large-scale studies.


“Cutting the top rate of income tax from 50p down to 45p raised an extra £8 billion from the super rich. Should it now be cut to 40p?”—Audience member

“Within hours of George Osborne making that claim, it was refuted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and many others, because what happened was we saw a huge exercise in tax planning. So people delayed certain payments and bonuses, etc, until that tax regime was reduced. So instead of paying it in the year when it was at 50p, they then delayed that. So you had an artificial low one year and an artificial high the next year.”—John McDonnell

The government took £8 billion more from additional rate taxpayers in 2013/14, the year that the top rate of tax was lowered from 50p to 45p, than it took in the previous year.

But as John McDonnell says, this doesn’t mean it gained £8 billion from the measure.

HMRC said last year that (as it had predicted) the cut led taxpayers to defer some income from the previous year to take advantage of the lower rate. So tax receipts were artificially low in 2012/13 and artificially high in 2013/14.

The head of the IFS, Paul Johnson, called the £8 billion rise a “one off effect”. Speaking to the BBC he said:

“it might have cost you a very small amount...it’s not bringing in lots of additional revenue but it’s probably not costing much either.”

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