BBC Question Time leaders special: Jo Swinson fact checked
Jo Swinson claimed that as a result of leaving the EU “we are going to be poorer, people are going to lose their jobs, there will be less money for our NHS.”
None of these statements is flatly incorrect, but they all need some clarification.
On the question of being poorer, it’s important to understand that expert forecasts don’t expect the UK to be poorer than we are now. Rather, they estimate that the UK economy would grow by less in a Brexit deal scenario, compared to a scenario where we remain in the EU.
Most forecasts from the government and expert think tanks expect UK GDP to grow by between 2% and 7% less in a scenario where we leave with a Brexit deal, compared to one where we remain in the EU. GDP is the value of everything produced in the UK economy.
These estimates are each looking at slightly different time periods (ten to fifteen years), and slightly different modelled Brexit scenarios—but they all broadly resemble Boris Johnson’s proposed deal.
It’s also important to remember that these are only modelled estimates, which means they contain quite a lot of uncertainty. For example, if a decision to remain in the EU was followed by intense political pressure to leave or have another referendum, this could create more economic uncertainty and affect GDP, meaning less of an economic benefit from remaining.
Whether Brexit means “less money for the NHS” really depends on how the government of the day chooses to manage its accounts. We’ve previously found that the Lib Dems’ estimate of a £50 billion “bonus” in additional money for the government to spend in a remain scenario is reasonable (although highly uncertain, for the reasons given above).
But the Lib Dems don’t plan to spend most of that “bonus” on the NHS; it’s mostly going on education pledges, such as 20,000 extra teachers. So while remaining might mean more money that could potentially be spent on the NHS, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where the money will go.
You could imagine a government spending more on the NHS in a Brexit scenario, than another government would spend in a remain scenario—if the government in the Brexit scenario is committed to more NHS spending overall.
As for the questions of job losses, none of the recent forecasts of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal we've seen have addressed the issue in detail. It seems likely that some companies would pull out of the UK—at least in part—in a Brexit scenario, leading to job losses, but we don’t have a clear picture of what would happen to the overall employment picture.
UK in a Changing Europe says that a Brexit deal with a “restrictive” migration policy would lead to 550,000 fewer people in the workforce than in a remain scenario—but this is due to reduced immigration, not job losses.