Nick Clegg's speech on Europe

8 October 2013


In a speech in which he maintained that a 'Brexit' would be the equivalent of "economic suicide", the Deputy Prime Minister attempted to challenge a few common misconceptions about the EU and the UK's membership of it.

A Eurocrat superstate?

The EU is often accused of being a sprawling and unaccountable bureaucracy. However, according to Nick Clegg, "the [European] Commission is smaller than Birmingham City Council".

This is not a straightforward comparison. As support for Mr Clegg's claim, the Cabinet Office directed us towards the European Commission's workforce figures. In 2012, it employed around 32,700 people. Meanwhile, Birmingham City Council (according to its most recent budget) shows a staff headcount of around 41,500 for the same year. 

However, this number includes school staff. Birmingham City Council told us that the "vast majority" of them are not employed by the council. Instead, it provided us with an alternative figure of just over 15,000 Full Time Equivalent staff for 2012. 

The legitimacy of the comparison therefore depends on which count you apply.

Overpriced membership?

In response to the claim that the UK pays more than its fair share towards the EU budget, Mr Clegg said that our contribution to the EU budget was the equivalent to "what we spend on the NHS every two to three weeks". 

He's correct.

In 2011/12 (the basis of the comparison), the UK's net contribution to the EU was €5.6 billion or approximately £4.7 billion. Meanwhile, the NHS's current expenditure (2012/13) is £117 billion. This means that every fortnight we spend £4.5 billion on the NHS, and every three weeks we spend £6.7 billion.

Inter-connected economies?

The Deputy PM protested that the UK's departure from the EU would prove disastrous for the economy. By way of evidence, he cited the fact that "three million British jobs are linked to the single market".

We've previously expressed concern over the (often recycled) claim that the UK might lose three million jobs if we pulled out of the EU. It's a statistic that Mr Clegg has used on several occasions. However, in this speech he was more careful in his phrasing.

It's reasonable for Mr Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to suggest that three million jobs are "linked" to our membership of the single market. However, there's little evidence to support the idea that these jobs would not exist if the UK weren't a member of the EU. It's encouraging to see the correct version of the claim in circulation, but we'll be keeping an eye on this one.

If you're interested in the origins of the figure, you can read our factcheck here.

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