Last night's Question Time was in Walsall. On the panel were Conservative energy secretary Amber Rudd MP, Labour former cabinet minister Yvette Cooper MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron MP, deputy leader of UKIP Paul Nuttall and broadcaster Paul Mason.
We checked their claims on the cost and benefits of being in the EU, non-British workers in the UK, free movement and reoffending.
EU costs and benefits
“The Vote Remain campaign says that we receive £10 back for every £1 we give to the EU. Vote Leave says we pay £350 million a week, and get half back. Who’s right?”—Audience member
Neither of these claims give a reliable picture.
For the money paid in, each refers to different estimates of what we pay into the EU.
The Stronger In campaign starts with our initial payment in—around £270 million a week over the last three years—and takes away the money we get back from the EU through grants and payments. The remaining net contribution to the EU budget has averaged around £180 million a week in the last few years.
The Vote Leave campaign’s claim that we pay £350 million a week to the EU for our membership fee is wrong. It excludes the discount that we get on the money we have to pay into the EU budget in the form of a rebate.
Vote Leave’s “less than half back” is referring to the money the UK receives back from the EU, for example through grants and payments to the public sector—around £80 million a week in the last few years, of the £270 million a week paid in.
Stronger In gets to a much larger return—£1.8 billion a week, or ten times the net contribution—because it uses an estimate of the total economic effect of being in the EU. While our membership fee is an exact figure, the financial benefit of being in the EU is highly uncertain.
The estimate it uses is based on a selection of studies produced at different times (some date back well over a decade), with different methodologies, and designed to answer different questions. Some looked at the economic impact of EU membership to date, and some at the future impact of a vote to leave. Some are not even specific to the UK.
While some of these studies have attempted to account for what the financial costs and benefits might have been had the UK not joined the EU, it’s very difficult to do this, and impossible to put a precise figure on it.
So who’s right? There’s no certain answer to what the financial effect of being or staying in the EU is to either public spending or the economy more widely. When we looked at what economists say, there seems to be some consensus that leaving the EU would cost the UK economically, although not all economists agree with that.
“Five out of six new jobs went to people who were not born here would seem to be putting British people at the back of the queue”—Paul Nuttall MEP
“That figure you gave ... in fact does include half of them people who live here already and are British citizens, just happen to be born outside Britain”—David Dimbleby
“Nine out of ten people employed in the UK are British born”—Amber Rudd MP
Figures released this week showed that people born outside the UK accounted for four fifths of the increase in employment in the past year. It’s not clear where Paul Nuttall’s higher figure of five out of six comes from.
These aren’t ‘new jobs’ as the change in employment will represent some people moving out of work as well as into work. The official figures can’t tell us about who new jobs are going to.
As David Dimbleby points out, people born outside the UK can still be British citizens. Boris Johnson, for example, was born in New York. If you look at nationality, about 56% of the change in the past year has been non-British citizens, rather than 80% if you look at non-British born people.
Amber Rudd’s figure is wrong for British-born people, and she probably means to refer to British nationals instead. Just over 80% of workers in the UK are born here, but about 90% of workers in the UK are UK citizens. Both proportions are falling over time.
“...what Paul has actually said, if Britain pulls out of Europe, is that he would want it to be the Norway model…”—Yvette Cooper MP
“I have not. Never in my life.”—Paul Nuttall MEP
“You have said that. What Norway means is that you would have free movement. If you have the Swiss model you would also have free movement. I think there is a lot of false promise going on that somehow it would change migration policies substantially if we pull out.”—Yvette Cooper MP
Free movement of people does apply to all countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) as they are part of the single market. This includes Norway. Switzerland is not a member of the EEA or the EU, but has also negotiated a separate agreement allowing for free movement of people.
A Swiss referendum vote in 2014 to cap immigration from the EU was criticised by the EU as against the rules of the treaty dealing with free movement of people, and led to the suspension of talks over cooperation in research funding.
If the UK wanted to stay in the single market after leaving the EU, either by joining the EEA or adopting a ‘Switzerland model’, then there may not be a large reduction in immigration.
Fully controlling immigration might require leaving the single market as well as the EU.
Mr Nuttall has noted in the past that Norway does well outside the EU, and the UK can as well. That said, he has also said that he is not a “big fan” of the Norway model, arguing for a more “bespoke” deal with the EU.
Ultimately the model we end up with in the event of a vote to leave would be decided by the government in negotiations with the EU, rather than Leave campaigners. And while the experience of other countries may be useful to look at, it won’t determine what would happen next.
“When [prisoners] do come out 46% of them go on to commit crime within a year. Those on shorter sentences, that jumps up to 60%. So there is a correlation between how long you spend in prison and the likelihood of you coming out and reoffending.”—Paul Nuttall MEP
All of Mr Nuttall’s numbers are correct for the latest figures from 2014, and ‘shorter sentences’ refers to those of less than a year here.
But while there is a correlation between longer sentences and lower reoffending, these figures can’t prove that longer sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending. The Ministry of Justice says:
“[rates of reoffending by sentence type] should not be compared to assess the effectiveness of sentences, as there is no control for known differences in offender characteristics and the type of sentence given.”
For example, say you find that men are more likely to reoffend than women. If everyone sentenced to less than a year in prison were men and everyone sentenced for longer were women, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell whether it was prison that was reducing the reoffending, or just the gender of the people. The reality is more complex, but the problem is similar.
Previous research by the government which tries to account for these differences suggests that longer sentences may be more effective, but the evidence isn’t conclusive. Meanwhile, short sentences have been found to be less effective than certain sentences that don’t involve prison.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We need facts more than ever.
Right now, it’s difficult to know what or who to trust. Misinformation is spreading. Politics and the media are being pushed to the limit by advancements in technology and uncertainty about the future. We need facts more than ever.
This is where you come in. Your donation is vital for our small, independent team to keep going, at the time when it’s needed most. With your help, we can keep factchecking and demanding better from our politicians and public figures.We can give more people the tools to decide for themselves what to believe. We can intervene more effectively where false claims cause most harm.
Become a donor today and stand up for better public debate, on all sides, across the UK.