Ask Full Fact: quick answers to your questions

22 June 2016

Throughout this campaign we've been asking readers to submit their questions on the referendum, and we've been publishing our answers.

Here are a few quick answers and sources for questions we didn't get chance to write about in full.


There are a lot of building projects currently underway and being planned that are financed by grants from the EU Regional Funds. If Brexit happens will these grants have to be repaid?

The government says that it's unclear what would happen, especially in the middle of the EU’s current funding cycle (2014-2020), and that unspent funds would be part of the negotiations.

There's no precedent because no member state has left the European Union. The rules for the Regional Development Fund don’t specify, and though the regulations for European Structural and Investment funds include clauses on repaying grants, they don’t discuss specifically what happens if a member state leaves.


If we leave the EU, who are we going to trade with? Will we remain part of the European Economic Area (EEA), like e.g. Norway, Iceland & Switzerland?

The UK will still trade after a vote to leave, but the trading arrangements would depend on what kind of agreement the UK reaches with the EU, which is impossible to predict. We’ve written about trade arrangements if we leave in this piece.


Which European country has the most/least generous welfare system?

The answer here depends on which measure you care about. ‘Generous’ could refer to, for example, how much governments spend on welfare, or it could be about what people need to do to qualify for specific benefits, and for how long they can claim. The second question is more complex and not something we have an answer to at the moment.

The EU’s statistics agency has figures on what governments across Europe spend on welfare. The UK, for instance, spends less than other EU countries on unemployment benefits, but more on housing. You can take a look and decide which measures you think matter most.


What impact could leaving the EU have on our green targets and in turn on climate change?

The government says environmental commitments would need to be covered in the withdrawal negotiations. We recommend reading this briefing from the UK in a Changing Europe, where experts have given their views on what a vote to leave might mean for UK climate policy.


How much money was identified by the EU auditors as inappropriately spent or misspent over the last 20 years and give examples of white elephants.

There aren't readily available figures for this total, but there are numbers for recent years. Last year about €6 billion in spending was subject to some sort of error.

Three things to note about that number. A small minority of that is proven to be fraudulent—most is due to mistakes. It’s not necessarily money ‘wasted’, some might just not have followed the proper process. And the EU does recover some of the money.

As for examples, you can find a list of projects funded by the EU here, and the Court of Auditors publishes specific examples of where errors happen.

We’ve summarised how the Court of Auditors looks at the EU’s accounts here.


Which media outlets are in support and which are against the UK leaving the EU?

Broadcasters are covered by Ofcom's rules on due impartiality (and the BBC by its Charter agreement). Here’s a list of newspapers which have declared a side:


Mail on Sunday

The Observer

The Guardian

The Times

Financial Times


Daily Mirror

The Economist

New Statesman


The Sun

The Sunday Times

The Sunday Telegraph

The Telegraph

Daily Mail

Daily Express

Sunday Express

The Spectator


How many of our laws can be overruled by the European Court of Justice? If we leave the EU will this court no longer have any jurisdiction over us?

Some of our laws, but not all. It depends on what area you’re talking about.

EU laws in areas for which the EU is responsible override any conflicting laws of member countries. These laws cover a range of issues defined by the EU treaties. If the EU doesn’t have the power to pass laws in a particular area—the school curriculum, for example—the Court of Justice won’t have a say.

Where the EU does pass laws, the Court can rule on what those laws mean, which might mean that a conflicting UK law can’t be applied any more. These rulings often take the form of guidance to a British court, which can then decide whether EU law overrides a UK law or not.

You can read more about EU law and the UK here.

The Court’s influence if we leave the EU depends on the results of negotiations.

EEA members, such as Norway, adopt EU laws in order to access the single market, and these are enforced by the EFTA court.

If we left the single market completely, cases against the UK could no longer be brought to the Court, and the government would decide which EU-derived laws to keep. The House of Commons Library says that the Court would no longer have jurisdiction over EU-derived laws, but that judgements made about those laws during our membership would remain binding.


How will farming be affected by leaving the EU?

The House of Commons Library has explored how agriculture will be affected in a briefing paper on the impact of an EU exit.


How would environmental directives, enacted in UK law, be affected?

The government says environmental commitments would need to be covered in the withdrawal negotiations. The House of Commons Library has looked at how a range of environmental directives might be affected, and at EU-derived laws in general.


The UK gross contribution will be £96.4 billion from 2016 to 2021 with these payments set to rise by £1.6 billion a year. Why should we continue to submit these enormous amounts to an organisation that has not been properly audited for several years.

The UK’s payments to the EU won’t be that high because of the rebate, which gives us a discount on what we’d otherwise be liable for. The forecasts suggest the UK will pay a total of about £71 billion to the EU over that period, and will get £24 billion back in payments to the public sector.

Auditors say the EU’s accounts are accurate, but they do record significant errors in how money is paid out, and this has been the case since 1995. We’ve covered more here.


How does the EU's processes compare to other processes for negotiating agreements between countries, e.g. Trade deals and extradition treaties? How do they compare for transparency and democratic oversight?

This is a big question, but we can point you to some sources. The House of Commons Library has written about how EU external agreements are negotiated and scrutinised. For comparisons you could look to Canada’s Library of Parliament briefing or an Australian Senate Committee inquiry into the treaty making process.

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