Politicians were always going to play fast and loose with the facts in this campaign.
The European project has been the subject of misinformation from the days when the Treaty of Rome was merely a twinkle in the eye of a French civil servant; it is just powerful enough, and opaque enough, for almost anything to be credible, and for the truth to be relatively hard to extract.
Readers may notice that the Brexit camp is over-represented here: that is not, as some may infer, editorial bias. In general, the Leavers are more prone to making statements that are simply wrong: the Remainers, for their part, produce doomsday calculations that may overstate their case, but are generally harder to “pop”. In any case, let’s get the needle out…
Myth 1: We send £350m a week to Brussels
Truth: We don’t. The £350m figure may be emblazoned on the side of the Vote Leave battle bus, but it ignores the rebate the UK receives, as Boris Johnson eventually admitted to ITV. The net cost of membership per week is £120m. Not to be sniffed at, but a sum many believe access to the single market more than compensates for.
Myth 2: Kiss goodbye to free EU roaming on your phone
Truth: The ABTA, a travel agents’ body, has gone in for a pound when the truth is closer to a penny. In all likelihood, with a bit of negotiation, roaming charges would not be levied on us if we vote to Leave (as the UK could be expected to levy them in return on EU citizens dropping by to see what Buckingham Palace looks like in the post-Brexit light).
Myth 3: The EU’s “human rights” laws prevent us from deporting criminals
Truth: You’ve got the wrong man. The EU is wholly separate from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which does, on rare occasions, assert that convicted criminals have – for example – the right to family life, and so can stay in the UK.
Myth 4: Leave, and the Jungle will move from Calais to Dover
Truth: Au contraire. The agreement between France and the UK to keep immigration officials on both sides of the Channel is another deal not wrapped up in Britain’s membership of the EU.
Myth 5: We could have free trade with the EU without freedom of movement
Truth: Access to the single market cannot be achieved without hosting any Pole, Italian or Spaniard who wants to pitch up in your country. Norway – not part of the EU – has had to accept as much. So too Switzerland. The MEP Daniel Hannan says the UK can have “free trade” with the EU after we leave. This is a fudge. Signing a “free trade” agreement with the EU is possible, but a quite different kettle of fish to being part of the single market. The single market, with its total lack of cross-border tariffs, represents the epitome of free trade. Despite its pleasant-sounding name, a “free trade agreement” would be no more than a knock-off version of this, likely to involve restrictions on Britain’s financial services industry, at the least.
Myth 6: Isis would back Brexit
Truth: Well, they might. So might the bogeyman. Nobody has been able to ask either him or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi thus far.
Myth 7: The EU will only allow for the sale of straight bananas, in bunches of two or three
Truth: It might be said that the only bananas the EU has had a significant impact upon the politicians who repeat this myth, in the face of evidence to the contrary in any branch of Tesco. Boris is the yellowest of all. The bloc sets no binding regulation here.
Myth 8: The EU accounts have never been signed off
Truth: They have. Every year since 2007. Where money has had to be clawed back by the European Commission it has been as a result of member states misspending the European money they are allocated – not vice versa.
Myth 9: The EU is a sprawling bureaucracy
Truth: Between the European Commission and the European Parliament it employs roughly the same number of people as a mid-size UK council.
Myth 10: Brussels interferes with balloons, teabags, and custard creams
Truth: If you are eight or younger, you are permitted to blow up a balloon under European law, despite Boris’ protestations to the contrary. If you are eight or older you should also know that Brussels doesn’t care if you recycle teabags, and is not about to banish custard creams from the aisles of British supermarkets. Could this be the moment to have a nice biscuit and a cuppa, and put your lungs into a balloon animal of a faceless bureaucrat to celebrate?