17 December's BBC Question Time, factchecked

Published: 18th Dec 2015

 On last night's panel were Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, Labour's Emily Thornberry MP, UKIP's Mark Reckless, the SNP's Hannah Bardell MP and journalist Piers Morgan. We factchecked their claims about migrants benefits, Norway's relationship with the EU and trade.

Benefits for EU migrants

"Experts have said, the Office of Budgetary Responsibility said in the Treasury Select Committee [benefit restrictions] wouldn't make much difference to the numbers who came here"—Jacob Rees-Mogg

The government argues that restricting new EU migrants' access to some benefits would reduce the number who come to the UK.

Others disagree. Appearing before Jacob Rees-Mogg and other members of the Treasury Select Committee, Sir Stephen Nickell of the Office for Budget Responsibility said:

"Just to get this clear, you are asking me what impact changing the benefit rules for EU migration, so that it becomes more difficult to obtain, is likely to have? … In my opinion, not much".

The government's proposals would apply to in-work benefits like tax credits, along with social housing. It also says it wants to "end the practice of sending child benefit overseas".

There's no clear evidence on just how much of a 'magnet' the UK's benefits system is for migrants, as we wrote earlier this week.

Norway's relationship with the EU

"I don't know if you remember the Prime Minister of Norway saying, we are outside Europe and we get faxed information on what it is we are supposed to do if we want to engage and trade with Europe"—Emily Thornberry

The phrase "fax democracy" to describe Norway's relationship with the EU was coined by the then Prime Minister of Norway in 2001.

It describes a situation where Norway is obliged to follow many EU rules in order to participate in the Single Market and other types of co-operation. But as a non-member, it has no voting rights and less access to the meetings and committees where policies are drawn up.

"These days it is perhaps more appropriate to say that Norway 'downloads' policy and legislation from Brussels", according to a 2012 report for the Norwegian government.

It argued that "the most problematic aspect of Norway's form of association with the EU is the fact that Norway is in practice bound to adopt EU policies and rules on a broad range of issues without being a member and without voting rights".

On the other hand, the report finds that the system works in practice, as "there have been few real problems in the Norway-EU relationship during the period 1994-2011".

We'll be adding to our work on this topic in the new year, as the referendum debate gets going.

Trade with the EU

"Our biggest trading partner is the rest of Europe"—Emily Thornberry

The total value of the UK's trade with the rest of the EU—that's including both imports and exports—was £520 billion in 2014. We exported £229 billion in goods and services to the EU, and imported £291 billion, for an overall trade deficit of £62 billion.

We exported more to (and imported more from) the EU than we did to any individual nation.

That said, the rest of the EU does consist of 27 countries. If we look at individual nations, then our biggest trading partner was the United States of America.

This isn't necessarily surprising; put together, the rest of the EU is economically large (with a GDP of about $15.5 trillion in 2014), and it's right on our doorstep.

We're also part of a customs union with the EU. We have no tariff barriers to trade with other EU member states, but we impose the EU's Common Customs Tariff on trade with non-members.

Round up posts like this—and those we publish for PMQs and major speeches by politicians—don't go into as much depth as our usual articles or cover every claim made in the show. Often they are done under a much shorter deadline, so we prioritise a clear conclusion above all else. As always we welcome feedback: please email the team on team@fullfact.org


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We aim for our factchecks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.

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