Tuesday, 14 June 2016

"The arms race of ever more lurid claims"

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian considered some of the somewhat illusory arguments being made in the EU referendum. It was as follows:

Through this column in February, I set out my initial views on the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union and made it clear that I was a supporter of the “remain” camp.

But I also wrote about the “dramatic headlines” and the “waves of claim and counter-claim” at that time, which I felt was leaving “many people perplexed by the whole debate.”

I remember that I somewhat naively appealed to “everyone involved in the referendum campaign to reduce the ‘spin’ and to ‘inform’ and keep the arguments as balanced as possible.”

Three months on, it has got so much worse and I have to say that I am very saddened by how the political classes have continued to resort to scare-mongering and the deliberate use of misleading or false statistics, as well as unreliable projections.

Quite unbelievably, a Committee of the House of Commons has published a report which accuses the various campaign groups – and the Treasury itself – of “misleading voters.”

Newspaper reports have stated that the “83-page report” which was “agreed unanimously by a committee” including “MPs on both sides of the referendum debate” will make “awkward reading for all the major players.”

Andrew Tyrie, the Chairman of the Committee, summed it up by adding that the “arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims made by both the leave and remain sides is not just confusing the public – it is impoverishing political debate.”

And whereas both sides of the debate and the Government came in for criticism, the report was “particularly scathing” about the “Vote Leave” assertion that the cost of EU membership is £350 million a week.

As has been pointed out time and time again, this “gross contribution” neglects to reference the UK rebate or other monies that come back into this country, such as the financial support for farmers, key structural investment (especially in places such as Cornwall and West Wales) and grants to educational and research institutions.

The House of Commons report actually states that the net cost of EU membership is less than one-third of what is being claimed by the Brexiters.

But the £350 million figure is still being continuously quoted by “Leave” politicians, and featured on their main campaign leaflets, which is just not right.

It is even plastered all over the “Vote Leave” battlebus, which recently started its UK tour from Truro where Boris Johnson repeatedly quoted this same illusory statistic, as well as a host of other figures – some which were clearly also questionable exaggerations.

In a number of interviews, Boris even kept mentioning Cornwall’s seven MPs – not the six we actually have – though a friend of mine said I shouldn’t be too hard on him, as he probably thinks there are two Steve Doubles!

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