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    We Fact-Checked 17 EU Referendum Claims So You Don't Have To

    There are untruths, half-truths, and statistics.

    by ,

    1. The UK sends the EU £350 million a week.

    Matt Cardy / Getty Images

    This is the central claim of the official Vote Leave campaign, and one of the most repeated soundbites of the EU referendum campaign.

    The phrasing of it on the Boris battle bus in the above photograph is also simply false: There is no sum of £350 million a week that could instead be spent on the NHS in the event of Brexit.

    £350 million a week is the theoretical amount of money the UK contributes to the EU budget. However, because the UK gets a special "rebate", which is calculated each year, some of this never even gets sent in the first place. The UK's official Statistics Authority says what the UK actually sent to the EU in 2014 was about £250 million a week.

    But even this isn't the final figure: A decent amount of EU money is spent on the UK, whether through farming subsidies, research funding to universities, or infrastructure projects. That leaves a net figure of about £175 million a week – much less than the headline figure on the bus, which the Leave campaign has continued to push hard despite being asked not to by the official stats watchdog on multiple occasions.

    2. Families would be £4,300 worse off if the UK voted to leave.

    Vote Leave / Via Twitter: @strongerin

    This was the headline figure of a Treasury analysis of the long-term implications of Brexit – used by the Stronger In campaign to claim that by 2030, families would be £4,300 poorer than if we stayed in.

    But that's not quite what the Treasury figures said, as numerous commentators pointed out. The analysis looked at how GDP – a measure of the country's output – would likely be affected in the long term by a vote to leave, then divided the outcome of the modelling by the number of families in Britain.

    GDP per family is not a usual measure used in economic analysis, and is not the same as household income. So to then extend this figure into saying "families would be worse off" is almost certainly over-reaching. This does not mean there's no truth to the analysis, though: Virtually every major economic forecaster, whether UK-based or international, thinks the British economy would grow less in the long-term outside the EU, though they disagree on the margin.

    3. Turkey – population 76 million – is joining the EU.

    Vote Leave

    Not anytime soon, it isn't.

    It's true that Turkey is in talks to try to become a member of the EU, and that the current government – and Boris Johnson – have spoken out in favour of its membership. However, those talks have been going on for a decade, and in that time Turkey has achieved only one of 35 criteria required to even be considered for membership.

    Even if those 35 conditions were to be met (which does not look likely anytime soon), every EU member state would then have a veto over whether or not Turkey gets to join the union. And there is no shortage of other EU nations ready to wield the veto on Turkey: Greece and Cyprus are obvious opponents, but France historically has also been against Turkish accession, as have Germany's largest political parties. Realistically, there is very little prospect of Turkey joining the EU at any point in the short or medium term.

    4. The UK can't veto Turkey's membership of the European Union.

    No UK PM can veto NATO ally Turkey's accession, PM telling the public it won't be my problem is no comfort at all. #bbcqt @vote_leave


    On the face of it, Penny Mordaunt's claim here is simply false: The UK explicitly does have a formal veto on any new country joining the European Union.

    When Mordaunt talks about this issue at more length, such as during BuzzFeed's Facebook Live referendum town hall, her point is a little more subtle.

    She's actually saying that because the UK regards Turkey as a crucial NATO ally, and officially supports its becoming an EU member, it would be politically impossible for a UK prime minister to veto Turkey's membership. It may well be true that it would be politically difficult for the current prime minister to veto membership, but it's a stretch to say no future prime minister – who may have been elected on a very different platform – could do so.

    5. Millions of Turks will come to the UK.

    Sunday Express / Via Twitter: @hendopolis

    This startling front-page claim was made by the Brexit-supporting Sunday Express in May. If true, it would represent an unprecedentedly large wave of migration: At present, there are around 3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK, so a wave of 12 million more would be huge.

    However, there is almost no basis at all to the story. Firstly (see above), Turkey is not likely to join the EU at any point in the near future, so the issue is moot.

    The basis for the 12 million figure is also questionable: It comes from a survey in the country where people were asked "would you, or any members of your family, consider moving to the UK?" if Turkey became an EU member. Sixteen per cent of respondents said yes – leading to the 12 million figure.

    But for someone to say they would consider moving is very different to saying that they or any one member of their extended family would think about moving. It's a bit like asking a roomful of people if anyone knows a teacher, then saying anyone who raises their hand is a teacher. It's not true.

    The Sunday Express has subsequently "clarified" the front-page claim on page 2 of its most recent edition.

    Sunday Express / Via Twitter: @hackinginquiry

    Another claim which has been seized upon by Leave-supporting politicians is proposals for opening up "visa-free" travel to the UK for Turkish citizens, which has sometimes been blurred into debates on EU membership or immigration.

    The Sunday Times

    However, these proposals relate to plans to waive the requirement for visitor and tourist visas for some Turkish nationals, rather than to allow automatic immigration for Turks.

    The proposals, the BBC notes, were actually made by UK diplomats as part of a quid-pro-quo for Turkey accepting more refugees as part of the ongoing crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries.

    The core of the proposal involved visa-free travel for Turkish passport holders to the Schengen area (of which the UK is not a member), but extending this to the UK for a limited set of Turkish passport holders.

    The UK has visa-free travel agreements with dozens of countries outside the EU, including Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Japan and Mexico. Official statistics show 2.5 million Brits holiday in Turkey each year.

    6. Victoria Beckham supports Brexit.


    It's not hard to see why the Brexit campaign would want to boast that they'd secured the crucial Posh Spice endorsement – especially when the Remain camp got David Beckham's last-minute backing – but as The Spectator reported in April, this quote is 20 years old and related to whether or not Britain should keep the pound.

    Today Victoria Beckham, like her husband, supports Remain – as she posted on Instagram this week: "I believe in my country, I believe in a future for my children where we are stronger together and I support the #remain campaign."

    7. "Yet another" lorry load of migrants arrived in the UK saying, "We're from Europe, let us in".

    Daily Mail

    The Daily Mail ran this front page last week, tying the discovery of a van full of "stowaways" in east London to EU referendum wrangling on border controls.

    However, the story quite quickly unravelled. Within an hour of the front page first being tweeted by the BBC's Nick Sutton, BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sanford said: "Only one problem with the Daily Mail front page. I've listened to the video, and people in lorry clearly say 'We're from Iraq'".

    The Daily Mail corrected the error at the foot of page 2 the following day. "In common with other papers," the correction began, "we published a reputable news agency's story."

    The correction did not clarify why the newspaper had apparently believed EU migrants – who have the right to live and work in the UK – would be stowing away in a truck.

    8. If the UK votes to leave the EU, George Osborne will pass an emergency Budget with tax rises and spending cuts.

    Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

    When the Leave campaign's poll lead looked the strongest in June, Osborne made a speech warning that leaving the EU would be so damaging to the UK that he'd have to pass an "emergency Budget" to make £30 billion of savings.

    This would include, he said, a series of wildly unpopular measures: a 2p increase in the basic rate of income tax, and a 3p increase in the higher rate, coupled with cuts to health, defence, and education.

    In reality, there would be zero chance of this happening. More than 60 Conservative MPs said they would vote against such a Budget, as did opposition parties, meaning it would have no chance of passing.

    Additionally, governments generally don't raise taxes in the middle of economic crises – they wait until the worst has passed, as with the austerity cuts that followed the economic crisis of 2008–10. Osborne was trying to make the potential economic hit of Brexit feel real to the British public, but may have strained his credibility in the effort.

    9. There are secret plans being drawn up for an EU army that are being kept from UK voters.

    The Times

    Several leading figures in the Leave campaign have referred to EU plans for a union-wide military force during the course of the referendum, including defence minister Penny Mordaunt.

    While it is true the European Commission is believed to be holding back a number of controversial proposals until after referendum day, the very fact of the "EU army" being part of the debate is a sign it's not really a secret.

    Another sign is just how long proposals for more military cooperation across the EU have been floated. The EU's predecessor first proposed a joint army in the 1950s, a proposal vetoed by the French. The European Council agreed in 1999 that the EU should have "capacity for autonomous action", and the European parliament voted in favour of a framework for a common EU army in 2009.

    There's lots of evidence that the EU would like to have an army, but the proposals have moved very slowly – and would be subject to veto by any EU member state, including the UK.

    10. Brexit will destroy Western civilisation as we know it.

    BBC / Via

    Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, is alarmed about Brexit. As he told the German newspaper Bild: "As a historian I fear Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilisation in its entirety."

    There's really no way to know for sure whether or not Tusk is correct, but it's unlikely – while European politicians fear that a vote to leave could lead to a chain reaction, most forecasters predict an economic hit and some political turmoil, rather than the end of days.

    11. "Open-door" EU immigration has knocked 10% off UK wages.

    The Sun

    Former welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith made this claim to The Sun, while other Brexit campaigners made similar assertions during ITV's referendum debate. But the evidence doesn't seem to support the huge effect claimed by Duncan Smith.

    The claim that wages have been hit so hard is based on research carried out by the Bank of England, which states that a 10 percentage point increase in immigrants as a portion of the workforce depresses wages by 2%. But that's a very different thing: If the proportion of immigrants in a workforce increases from 1% to 2%, that's a 100% rise, but only a rise of one percentage point.

    A fact-check by the academic Jonathan Portes found that the portion of immigrants in the UK workforce has increased – but only by around two percentage points, implying a hit to wages of around 0.4%, or around "a penny an hour".

    12. The EU has "taken all our fish through the years".

    Mandy Boylett / Via

    Mandy Boylett, a former UKIP candidate, sang this line as part of a pro-Brexit cover of "Three Lions". The comment reflects huge frustration among Leave supporters at the sense the EU has disadvantaged UK fishermen.

    Analysis by Bryce Stuart at the University of York suggests the picture is more complicated: Yes, there was a bad era of quotas and fishers being forced to discard their catches, he says, but this is changing.

    Most of the most egregious features of the UK's current quota system aren't down to the EU, he suggests. One Dutch-owned vessel has 6% of the UK's total quota, but he says the UK is free to change how it allocates its quota without leaving the EU. Additionally, if the UK tried to police its waters post-Brexit to prevent foreign vessels fishing in them, it would face retaliation – and around 20% of fish caught by British vessels are fished in other countries' waters, he says. Additionally, most fish caught in the UK are exported to the EU.

    Others – such as Conservative MEP Ian Duncan – disagree with parts of this assessment but acknowledge the problems are tricky either way. Who knew fishing was so complicated?

    13. Britain would be "at the back of the queue" for a US trade deal.

    Stronger In / Via Twitter: @strongerin

    Harsh, Obama. In his intervention supporting the Remain campaign, President Obama apparently scotched the hopes of Brexit supporters who said leaving the EU would let the UK secure better, new trade deals with the US.

    However, in reality it wouldn't be up to Obama, whose presidency will be over in January 2017 – long before Britain would have left Europe.

    14. Britain would be "at the front of the queue" for a US trade deal.


    Ah. This sounds more promising for Brexit. In contrast to President Obama, Ted Cruz promised earlier this year that if he were president, a post-Brexit UK would be "front of the queue" for a new US trade deal.

    One snag: Ted Cruz is not going to be the next president of the US. He suspended his campaign at the start of May, and Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Like President Obama, Cruz has no say over where the UK stands in the queue.

    15. Britain would neither be at the front nor the back of the queue for the US trade deal.

    Ralph Freso / Getty Images


    Donald Trump might be the next president of the US, so his view on where the UK would stand for a trade deal matters. Speaking to ITV in May, he said: "I don’t want to say front or anything else – I would treat everybody fairly but it would not make any difference to me whether they were in the EU or not.

    "You would certainly not be at the back of the queue, that I can tell you."

    Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has made no comment on where the UK would stand in the queue for a hypothetical US trade deal, but has signalled her support for Remain.

    One thing that is clear is wherever the UK might stand in any queue, negotiating trade deals takes a long time. For example, Canada – one of the world's largest economies – has taken seven years to negotiate a trade deal with the EU, which is still yet to be ratified.

    16. If you vote to remain, there will be "no more Queen or royal family", "no parliament", and "EU armed forces, no British".

    Alim Jayda / Via

    An unofficial pro-Brexit leaflet circulated in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, made the above claims and numerous others, including a slightly disturbing line drawing of a dismembered UK "divided into regions".

    Some of the claims have a basis in reality: EU rules do limit how much the state can do to support industries such as steel and to encourage renewable energy. But, needless to say, there is no evidence of any EU plans to abolish the royal family or parliament.

    Due to gaps in the UK's advertising laws, no one is responsible for regulating political adverts or leaflets, leaving them free (in most cases) to say what they wish.

    17. You need to take a pen with you to the polling booth, or "they" will rub out and change your vote.

    #EURealityCheck #EUreferendum #EUref #EU EU Referendum vote #VoteLeave Take a biro!! Pencil, which they give you, can be erased!


    You don't need to do this. If the powers that be wanted to fake a referendum result, there would be much easier ways than manually rubbing out and changing pencil votes. (This would also be very difficult to do in the tight turnaround on UK counts.)

    Countries that do routinely rig their ballots tend to find simpler ways to do it: Ballot boxes pre-stuffed with fake papers are a common trick, as is "losing" boxes full of votes from opposition areas. Rubbing out millions of votes is too much like hard work.

    However, polls suggest millions of people believe the referendum will be fixed. Research by YouGov shows 46% of Leave supporters believe "it is likely the EU referendum will be rigged" and 28% believe MI5 is working with the government to prevent Brexit.

    Still, if you really feel you must take a pen to the voting booth, feel free – it is allowed under the rules.

    James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: <a href=";search=0x05A89521181EE8F1" target="_blank">here</a>

    Contact James Ball at

    Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Siraj Datoo at

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