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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fact-checking the Clegg v Farage EU debate

The first EU debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage on LBC was for the most part restrained with a surprising amount of detail and substance. Most of the key fault lines in the UK-EU relationship were touched on.

However, given that the two men represent the polarising ends of the debate, there were also a number of claims that struggled in the accuracy department. Here is our quick 'fact-check' of the key debating points:

Claim - Clegg: I supported a referendum on Lisbon

Verdict: Technically true but highly misleading

On the referendum question, Clegg said that when it came to new EU Treaties transferring new powers to Brussels,
"I've never wavered in that position, that's why the last time the rules changed, something called the Lisbon Treaty, I said there should be a referendum."
It is true that the Liberal Democrats called for referendum on Lisbon but crucially it was an in/out referendum which was not on the agenda at the time - the issue wasn't even put to put to a vote. There was however a vote on whether to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty itself on which the party abstained, despite the fact that together Tory MPs, Lib Dem MPs and Labour rebels could have passed it. Clegg is being highly disingenuous by blurring the distinction between an in/out referendum and a treaty specific one. Farage's quip that there was no point waiting for a new Treaty as powers were being transferred to the EU every week via directives and ECJ rulings was quite effective in this context.

Claim - Farage: Under EU rules we have a completely open door to 485 million Europeans 

Verdict - Partially true but unclear on the numbers

It is true that the free movement of labour is a fundamental principle of the EU and the UK cannot limit the numbers of EU migrants coming over. However, Clegg was right to point out that the right to free movement is not completely unqualified - under the free movement directive migrants have to be able to support themselves financially or have 'reasonable' prospects of finding a job.

In terms of Farage's 485 million figure though we have to say we are a bit confused as to where exactly this comes from - the population of the EU28 is around 506 million, which minus the UK's approximately 63 million leaves 443 million.

Claim - Clegg: 3 million jobs would be at risk if UK left the EU

Verdict - Highly unlikely - would depend on a range of other factors

Clegg cited the well-worn '3 million jobs linked to the EU figure' despite established doubts over its veracity. Recently those tending to cite this number have replaced "depend on" with "linked to" but it's still dubious. As we've argued in the past, this claim is one of the most conspicuous examples of a rogue statistic without any credible counter-factual attached to it. The assumptions behind the 3 million jobs figure is that there would be no trade at all trade with Europe if the UK left the EU, which of course is nonsense -  a similarly heroic assumption to that which Better Off Outers make when calculating the cost of EU membership based on all regulatory cost magically disappearing on Day 2 post-Brexit.

Claim - Farage: UK would hold the whip hand in negotiations over a new trade deal with the EU

Verdict - Very uncertain 

Farage argued that in the event of an exit, the UK would "hold the whip hand" in trade negotiations with the EU due to the EU's trade deficit with the UK. We've looked at this in detail - the key point is that while this is true in the area of goods, when it comes to services - a crucial and thriving area of the UK economy - this is not the case. So with that logic, EU countries would have incentive to strike a deal with the UK in goods but not services including financial services. Secondly, the process for leaving the EU - the so-called Article 50 - actually involves less control for the UK than is often assumed, including a Qualified Majority Vote on the final deal in which the UK will not take part.

Claim - Farage: 75% of UK laws come from the EU. Clegg: no it's 7%

Verdict - Both are wrong

The contentious topic of how exactly how many UK laws are derived from the EU also came up, with Farage gleefully citing Viviane Reding's absurd claim that 75% of UK laws are decided in Brussels (as we've argued many times, Reding must secretly be on the UKIP payroll). Clegg went with the House of Commons' Library's briefing which estimated this to be around 7%. Regular readers will know we've analysed this in painful detail and the truth is it is simply not possible to say exactly - what's clear is that it's neither 7% (this only counts primary legislation which isn't meaningful at all) nor 75%. (But basically too many).

Claim - Farage: We give the EU £55 million per day

Verdict - True if counting gross cost, untrue and misleading if counting net cost

Farage is correct that the UK's contribution to the EU works out as around £55 million per day. However, that it is a gross figure which does not include the UK rebate (cold, hard cash the UK gets back from Brussels every year) and nor the UK's receipts from the EU budget (even if this is only UK taxpayers' cash being re-routed via Brussels).

Claim - Clegg: Without the EAW we'd struggle to extradite criminals and terrorists

Verdict - The EAW makes the process faster but it is not indispensable

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is used by EU states to speed up extradition procedures. It is true that the EAW has been used by the UK to recover suspected terrorists and other criminals from other EU states who have subsequently been found guilty and locked up. It is however untrue to claim that suspects such Hussain Osman and Jeremy Forrest could not have been recovered without it. Also before the EAW was agreed, there were agreement on extradition and the UK managed to successfully extradite plenty of criminals from EU countries through bilateral procedures. These were considerably slower but it is highly unlikely that with or without the EAW Italy would have wanted to hang on to Hussain Osman or France to Jeremy Forrest.


Anonymous said...

Whether 7% or 75%, Clegg failed to explain under what mandate power has been transferred to the EU historically and also going forwards. It seems that Clegg has forgotten that we live in a democracy and that he is paid to do what we want.

Judging from most blogs this morning (even the lefty BBC's HYS), people are beginning to realise the state of the EU and what is stands for.

Farage was right about the EU and the Ukraine and is the only UK politician to stand up and say it.

We need a Referendum now and not in X years time. The danger is that politicians are disenfranchising their own electorate to such an extent that extremism and civil strife/civil war are on the cards.

OE - do you have an up-to-date list of EU mandates showing which countries have complied and which countries do not bother to implement them even though they have pushed them through? My bet is that the UK is right there at the top, implementing the most and being 'a good EU citizen'. The UK is certainly not a country of 'Little Englanders'.


jon livesey said...

The frequent cry that we need a referendum "now" is one I find baffling.

If you held a referendum tomorrow, no voter wold have any idea what concessions Cameron can obtain between now and 2017. More to the point, no voter would know how intransigent the EU is going to be in negotiating with the UK.

A referendum tomorrow would most likely end up with the UK voting to stay in, simply because of the amount of FUD people like Clegg can spread. Remember, most people don't read Open Europe every day, and in fact for most people the EU isn't even in their top five issues to worry about.

It is widely accepted that any referendum to change the status quo must go to the voters with the side in favour of change with a lead of at least ten percent, since support for change usually declines as you get close to the vote.

"A referendum now" is a rallying cry, but it's a recipe for defeat.

Rik said...

This is a very complicated dossier. Most of the voters seem to miss a lot of the red lines that run through it.

In a dossier like this you are almost certainly to get this kind of discussion. Basically pretty unnuanced.

A lot of the blame on this is imho Cameron's. His communication strategy towards the electorate is simply not good. This is way to complicated to wait until 6 months for electiontime or referendumtime. Almost certainly the complete message has to be brought in pieces, one at the time. Half a year before the elction is simply not enough time to coomunicate this all.

Also in relation to these 2 gentleman.
If Cameron can make clear that Farage not has proper answers on questions like:
How in more detail to get out of the EU technically;
Come up with a breakdown of the potential collareral damage:
Assessment of downside risks (and how to mitifgate those)?
If you havenot got a clue what the downside risks could be how will can you mitigate them?

Subsequently put pros and cons in the balance and sees what comes out of that. At this stage it is simply a lot of uncertainty.
The Wilders report is indefinitely more detailed than anything I have seen from IP on this. This is not an easy dossier and certainly not as easy as IP wants people to think. All what we have seen from IP is basically a 'Salmond' strategy. Oneliners galore, but no real solutions at all.

Towards Clegg. What are really the advantages of the EU besides the Common Market?
Does he really think the EU can move ahead this way without any reform?
And if it needs reform how he more concretely wants to achieve that?
How he wants to deal with the lack of a sustainable platform in the UK (or better sustainable lack of a platform)?

The outcome of these 2 discussions will for more rational people (who look to be still in the majority) lead to the strategy Cameron has proposed.
Non of the other views (these 2 plus Labour) seem able to get a
majority behind them.

Towards Labour it is a different cattle of fisch. These are digging themselves in on a lost cause. It seems better not prevent the competition to shoot itself in the foot until proper damage limitation etc will be hard to do. In other words bring it first up closer to the election.

From the Ashdown polls (mainly) a lot of people still have a completely wrong picture about the importance of this file.
Yes, getting the EU reformed doesnot have a high priority itself. However what has a high priority is are several heavily related dossiers:
Immigration, you donot solve the immigration issue outside the EU context.
Economy, how to deal with 50% of your export market that looks crap for the next decade at least. Idem.
Rise of IP. Probably mainly a protest party. But nevertheless one that has the EU or being anti-EU as it main selling point.
In a nutshell the EU is in the middle of nearly all major issues and a solution is most of the time not possible outside the EU context.

And on top of that in a climate where there have never been more disenfranchised people with traditional parties (and trend still moving Soutwards on these) it is great to have somebody else to take a lot of the Flak for that. The Tories are simply part of that whole political machine with whom large groups have simply had it.

Idris Francis said...

Much of your review is itself wrong, and surprisingly so given the manhours you must have available.

There is no doubt whatever that the 3m jobs claim was and remains a deliberate lie, by Britain in Europe (dec'd) for their infamous launch at the Imax Cinema. The head of NIESR who had been commissioned by BiE to analyse the effects of leaving the EU altogether (Martin Weale, now on the MPCA, then and now a confessed Europhile) was reported in the national press as having boyotted that launch because of the "Goebells-like spin" BiE (aka Mandelson Danny Alexander etc)had put on their figures.

The report - which Istill have - said that although 3.2m jobs are related to our exports to the EU, the number would fall by only 50,000 or so if we left and made sensible transition arrangemens, and that even that 50,000 would only be temporary. BiE turned that into "3.5m jobs will be lost if we fail to join the euro"!! Such is the lack of integrity of those who seek to deceive us on every possible opportunity. And, albeit to a lesser extent, those who even now pretend that there is doubt about the 3m figure - there is no doubt, it is not only wrong but it is a deliberate lie.

I will return to this thread with more examples if time permits - most of my time goes on exposing official lies about speed camera benefits, which do not exist.

Idris Francis said...

Having run my own electronics company for 30 years, and won a Queens Award for Exports, I can assure you that it is the (net) customer who holds the whip hand over the seller.

And we are, as Nigel said, very much the net customer albeit overall, not necessarily in every sector of course.

Does anyone seriously imagine that the EU would choose to impose significant tariffs on imports from its biggest customer? Or that if they did, we would not retaliate? And fail to understand that if both happened the monthly cheque for the difference would come to us not Brussels?

Does anyone seriously imagine, as OE implies, that the EU would feel that it would impose tariffs or restrictions only in those sectors in which Britain is the net seller, or that if they did we would not retaliate vice versa?

Is Open Europe, in arguing that Nigel might not be right, unware that Lord (Digby) Jones, former DG of the CBI said last October in his speech at the UKIP Conference that if (when) we leave the EU, THERE WOULD BE A FREE TRADE DEAL WITHIN 24 HOURS?

Of course there would, for all the above reasons and more, including because we would have the whip hand because the net balance of trade is from the EU not to it.

Never once in 30 years did any supplier of mine seek to impose terms. Nor would the EU, even THEY would not be so daft. Especially when their economies are in steadily worsening crises with ever increasing unemployment.

Steve said...

"Clegg failed to explain under what mandate power has been transferred to the EU historically and also going forwards"

The answer being votes in a democratically elected parliament, and for at least some of the powers exercised at the EU level (not all) a direct referendum in 1975.

A more important issue is that Farage never really defines the extent of our being "governed by Brussels". That's why the line about the percentage of laws comes out with such regularity from UKIP. It's a way of exaggerating the significance of EU decisions to our lives by waving a scary sounding figure in front of people's faces (which isn't accurate in any case).

Anonymous said...

We have never had a referendum on the eu as it has become, we had a referendum on staying in a common market, a trading zone, not a logical takeover of our nation. Clegg who worked directly for the eu in brussells should have a better idea of what happens there than he made out, in fact he like most europhiles indulged in propaganda spreading.

A more important issue is that Clegg would lose his personal pension if he was honest about just how much governance of our nation has been lost to brussells, the recently signed trip agreement made by the unelected political failures on the commission, not national governments or the elected mep's so no democracy but it leaves the NHS open wide to take overs by American healthcare providers and the privatisation of the service. The only way to prevent that is an article 50 exit.

S.Kringel said...

"Anonymous said...

We have never had a referendum on the eu as it has become, we had a referendum on staying in a common market, a trading zone, not a logical takeover of our nation."
This is the mainproblem for the people in eu countries, who should be the base of eu.

Anne Palmer said...

Looking at what is to come from the EU (TTIP) and the GREAT loss of permanent Sovereignty if we accept the TTIP and remain in the EU, the only way the people of this Country may be able set thenselves FREE from foreign rule, is by using the General Election in 2015 as the REFERENDUM we have been denied. We know AS A MATTER OF FACT that all three major Politicla Parties want to remain in the EU-apparently FOREVER, so the only alternative is to vote for any Political PARTY or Organisation THAT WANTS OUT OF THE EU. It matters not if none have ever GOVERENED before, for lets face it, those we have elected in the past have only been able to obey EEC/EC/EU Orders anyway.

Unknown said...

If the UK left the EU and trade barriers were raised then the Uk would lose some exports but also substitute some imports with UK goods and services.

Since the EU exports more to the UK than the UK exzports to the EU, it may well be that the UK gains more jobs than it loses.

However, everyone loses from the reduced competition in UK and EU.