The EU summit crisis: What we know about Britain and the European Union

9 December 2011

David Cameron made a bold statement today about Britain's position in the EU as he exercised the right to veto a revision to the Lisbon treaty, causing a deal to be made by a majority of other EU countries separate from the confines of the union.

This significant step came after France had prevented safeguards to protect the City of London from being included in the revision, as demanded by Mr Cameron to defend British interests.

Full Fact has checked plenty of claims relevant to the unfolding crisis, and which will help shape people's response to today's decisions:

'Is more than half of the UK's trade with the eurozone?' - In Radio 4's Today programme it was claimed that more than half of our foreign trade comes from the euro area. The statistics actually referred to our trade with the EU; in fact less than half of our trade comes from the euro area itself.

'Will the Tobin Tax cost half a million jobs across the EU?' - Full Fact investigated a number of claims made by the Chancellor about the impact of a European Financial Transaction Tax on Britain and found that the European Commission did not agree with some of the conclusions Mr Osborne had drawn from their Impact Assessment.

'Do three million UK jobs rely directly on our place in the EU?' - Nick Clegg claimed that three million UK jobs rely directly on our place within the EU, an out of date statistic which referred to UK jobs dependent upon exports with the EU. This should not be used as an example of the cost to Britain if we were to leave the EU since this does not necessarily mean all exports to the EU would stop.

'What proportion of UK law comes from Brussels?' - A number of outlets produced varying claims of the percentage of UK law which comes from the EU. Full Fact found that all estimates were broadly correct depending on which method was used to calculate the percentage, with the House of Commons Library asserting that any statistics between 15 per cent and 50 per cent were justifiable.

'Cost of EU: Can we count on Express estimates?' - Full Fact investigated a number of claims made in a supplement in the Express entitled 'Get Britain Out the EU' and found that a number of their estimates were based gross rather than net estimates and therefore did not fully assess the cost of the EU. 

During a debate on the last EU Treaty Shirley Williams became one of the people who inspired Full Fact when she remarked:

"We are just as guilty as the Irish people may be in that we have never effectively set up systems of information and communication that enable our citizens to find out the facts—the objective truths—about the European Union. Let me give the House just one example before inevitably I am interrupted. Noble Lords will see on page 17 of today's Daily Mail, under the heading "EU LIARS", the following statement:

"What is true is that Britain's ability to get its own way in the EU will be seriously undermined by the Treaty, as we will be giving up the veto in 61 areas and allowing our voting power to be cut by one third".

"That is the exact opposite of the truth. Our voting powers under the Lisbon treaty would have been increased from 8 per cent of the voting total in the Council to 12 per cent—a substantial increase. Noble Lords who are mathematically inclined will note that the figure is exactly a third upwards, not downwards. That article appeared today. It would not have been difficult for somebody to check the treaty of Lisbon for the truth. Here is a distinguished, widely circulated newspaper repeating the exact opposite of the facts, and nobody rebutting that."

Ironically, Full Fact has never checked the claim she was referring to.

Baroness Williams went on to say in a non-partisan manner that a proper debate on the EU: "never happened, with the result that our electorate, like that of Ireland, have been under an illusion for a long time, because they have not had access to objective information. I do not mean information from people like me who are strongly pro-European, I mean getting as close to the truth and the facts as one possibly can. That is the real lesson of the Irish referendum: the need to stop behaving as though we can have a misinformed, poorly understood debate."

Full Fact is trying to fill that gap. It is a big task and our resources are limited. If you can help, please donate.

Photo attributes: rockcohen on Flickr

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