The UK Statistics Authority has criticised Boris Johnson for “a clear misuse of official statistics”.
Mr Johnson wrote in the Telegraph last week:
“And yes – once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS”.
We have never paid the EU £350 million a week and we have never owed the EU £350 million a week. After we leave the EU, that means we cannot take back control of £350 million a week.
However you adjust the claim to make it more accurate, it will always miss the key context: economists on both sides during the referendum predicted that the impact on the economy from changes to trade and more would be far bigger than the UK’s EU membership fee.
Honesty in public debate matters
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The UK rebate means we would never send or take back control of £350 million
It was often claimed during the referendum that the UK “sends” £350 million a week to Brussels, and that this sum of money could be spent on other things like the NHS if we left the EU. This is wrong.
£350 million is roughly what we would send to the EU budget if it wasn’t for the UK’s budget rebate. The rebate is effectively a discount on what we would otherwise be liable for. This rebate was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and the way it is calculated can’t be changed in future without the UK’s agreement.
The closest—not perfect—analogy is that £350 million is like the amount a supermarket till displays before the discounts are applied. You never pay it and you never owe it. The number is just one step towards the final bill.
The UK actually pays around £250 million a week. We also get some money back from the EU, but that isn’t fully under our control, as Mr Johnson points out.
Mr Johnson’s most recent claim in the Telegraph is still inaccurate, despite his more careful wording: it doesn’t make sense to talk about taking back control over money that is never sent and never owed to anyone else.
This needs to be corrected
Mr Johnson has not, as far as we know, explicitly distanced himself from last year’s £350m claim—if anything the current claim echoes it—even though it was called “potentially misleading” and, after it continued to be used, simply “misleading” by the UK Statistics Authority last year (under the leadership of a previous Chair).
Mr Johnson’s latest claim is also inaccurate.
While it would be helpful for the Authority to explain why it has worded its latest letter more strongly in response to a less inaccurate version of the claim, the more pressing need is for an apology and correction from Mr Johnson to set the record straight.
We've published a more detailed analysis of the letters from the UK Statistics Authority and the Foreign Secretary.