9 Big Claims From Boris Johnson's Post-EU Referendum Column, Fact-Checked

    The Leave campaigner and odds-on favourite to be next Conservative leader has set out his plan for post-Brexit Britain in a 1,000-word Telegraph column. Does it stand up?

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    Boris Johnson, Tory leadership frontrunner and former mayor of London, broke his weekend-long post-referendum silence on Sunday night in a Telegraph column setting out his vision for how Brexit could work.

    Johnson strikes a conciliatory tone in the article, promising that Brits would retain easy access to Europe, that EU citizens already in the UK would be protected, and that a favourable deal is possible. But does this tally with what we know from other sources?

    You can read Johnson's article in full here, but we tackle the main claims below.

    1. "More than 17 million people voted to leave the EU – more than have ever assented to any proposition in our democratic history."

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    Verdict: sort of true. The raw numbers are definitely on Johnson's side for this claim: Thanks to the high turnout of this referendum, Leave's total of 17.4 million votes is by far the highest of any comparable proposition.

    In percentage terms, though, the picture is much less clear. The UK has only ever had three nationwide referendums (as well as several that didn't span the whole country).

    The first, 1975's referendum on EU membership, was won by a landslide – 67.2% Yes to 32.8% No. The second, 2011's referendum on AV, had a similarly huge margin of victory: Only 32.1% of voters supported changing the electoral system, while 67.9% opposed it.

    In that context, last Thursday's result – 51.9% Leave vs 48.1% Remain – looks very close (a fact Johnson later acknowledges).

    2. "It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration. I do not believe that is so."

    Philippe Huguen / AFP / Getty Images

    Verdict: partly true. We can never be sure why people voted as they did, but referendum day polling from YouGov and Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft both show the same motivations for Leave voters.

    In both polls, the main apparent reason for voting leave was given as having the UK take back decision-making from the EU, chosen by just under half of Leave voters. YouGov phrased this as "to strike a better balance between Britain's right to act independently, and the appropriate level of co-operation with other countries", while the Ashcroft poll called it "the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK".

    Both answers are ostensibly about sovereignty, but in a campaign where immigration was a dominant issue, it is entirely possible immigration was one of the key areas that respondents picking that issue wanted sovereignty over.

    A separate answer explicitly about controlling immigration was the second most-popular in both polls, chosen by up to a third of Leave voters – suggesting it was a substantial driver of Leave's win. All other issues lagged far behind those two, for Leave voters.

    3. "The stock market is way above its level of last autumn."

    Yahoo Finance

    Verdict: not really. At the time of writing, the UK's best-known stock market, the FTSE 100, is at around 6,060 points – down more than 5% since the UK voted to leave the EU.

    The market was lower at some points last autumn. Its lowest point in the second half of last year was 5,898. That's lower than its current level, but by less than 3% – and the market was higher than that for most of last year.

    Additionally, the FTSE 100 is full of international companies that work in dollars rather than pounds, and make most of their money from outside the UK. The FTSE 250, which is the next biggest set of companies, is much more UK-based. Here's how that chart looks:

    Yahoo Finance

    The FTSE 250 has been hit harder by Brexit than the FTSE 100. It's currently several hundred points lower than it was at any point in 2015.

    4. "The pound remains higher than it was in 2013 and 2014."


    Verdict: mostly not true. When we talk about the "strength" of the pound, we're almost always comparing it with the dollar, which is the world's reserve currency. Since 10pm on referendum night, the pound has dropped from around $1.48 to $1.33 – an unprecedentedly large move in the usually sedate currency markets.

    This is much lower than the pound was at any point during 2013 and 2014. However, as defenders of Johnson note, it's possible he was referring to the pound versus the euro. Despite falling sharply against the euro, the pound remains about four cents above its lowest level, which it was at during 2013 and 2014.

    5. "Most sensible people can see that Bank of England governor Mark Carney has done a superb job."

    Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

    Verdict: That's not what Boris said a week or two ago. Speaking on 16 June, Johnson accused Carney of "talking the country down" and added an endorsement for an open letter accusing the Bank of England governor and others of "startling dishonesty".

    “Everybody has a right to their view but I thought there was a piece in the Daily Telegraph where some former chancellors seemed to me to articulate the point rather well," Johnson said at the time. "I would associate myself with some of the things they said.”

    6. "We had one Scotland referendum in 2014, and I do not detect any real appetite to have another one soon."

    Oli Scarff / AFP / Getty Images

    Verdict: not really true. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, has clearly and publicly signalled support for a second referendum if it will help keep her country in the EU.

    This is, of course, in line with a long-held ambition for Sturgeon's political party, which has the explicit aim of achieving an independent Scotland.

    Polls – the best evidence we have of public sentiment, despite recent failings – suggest the Scottish public's view is a little more mixed, with 42% supporting a second referendum and 44% against. A second poll for the Sunday Post showed a surge in support for an independence vote should a second referendum be held, with a Yes vote of 59%.

    7. "British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down."

    Verdict: probably true, but we can't guarantee this yet. As BuzzFeed Europe editor Alberto Nardelli explains, the UK needs to negotiate a deal to exit the EU, and simultaneously negotiate a deal to secure new trade and border arrangements with EU nations.

    If talks go badly, or there are delays in securing a deal, it's possible UK citizens could at least temporarily lose at least some of the above rights.

    8. "The only change – and it will not come in any great rush – is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation: the vast and growing corpus of law enacted by a European Court of Justice from which there can be no appeal."

    John Thys / AFP / Getty Images

    Verdict: muddled. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the EU's highest court, and so, as with all supreme courts, there's no further right of appeal once its made its verdict.

    But courts aren't responsible for passing new laws. EU laws and treaties pass through a complicated process that requires the approval of member states (with vetoes for member states in several key policy areas), as well as the directly elected European parliament. Once these laws have been passed, enforcing them is the responsibility of the ECJ.

    9. "Yes, the Government will be able to take back democratic control of immigration policy, with a balanced and humane points-based system to suit the needs of business and industry. Yes, there will be a substantial sum of money which we will no longer send to Brussels, but which could be used on priorities such as the NHS."

    Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

    Verdict: only true if we can agree a deal on those terms, and that will be near impossible. These two claims are the real million-dollar (or £350-million-a-week) questions.

    Johnson promises earlier in his article that UK citizens would retain the right to live and work in the EU, and the UK would retain access to the single market. That's roughly the "Norway" model of EU relations. However, Norway has to contribute to the EU budget (and doesn't get anything like the UK's rebate), and has to accept free movement.

    To secure what Johnson suggests – free movement for UK citizens and access to the single market with no (or lower) payments to the EU budget and no reciprocal free movement for EU citizens – would be a huge negotiation coup that EU leaders have given absolutely no suggestion they would support.

    Senior ministers and officials across the EU have repeatedly stated free movement is a red line for them on negotiations, while if the UK got a deal this good, the EU would have to offer huge concessions to other members (and Norway), who would want a similar deal.

    In practice, even though Johnson's letter appears to be promising Brexit will look like the status quo, only slightly better, he's actually making some very ambitious pledges – and it's on him to show whether he can land them.

    James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: <a href="http://pgp.mit.edu/pks/lookup?op=get&amp;search=0x05A89521181EE8F1" target="_blank">here</a>

    Contact James Ball at James.Ball@buzzfeed.com.

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