A voter's guide to the EU referendum

We are being bombarded by claim and counter-claim - to the rescue come John Rentoul and Louis Ashworth, who explain the ins and outs of summer’s political hot potato

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The referendum on Europe is one of the most important issues currently facing the nation.

We will all hear endlessly from politicians on both sides.

Here is our guide to the myths, facts and arguments that are being deployed – and where other leading figures stand.

Brexit fact-check

Brexit would put 3 million jobs at risk 

Who said it? Nick Clegg: “There are 3 million of our fellow citizens, men and women, in this country whose jobs rely directly on our participation [in the EU].” Today programme, 31 October 2011. David Cameron, slightly more carefully: “Three million people’s jobs in our country are already linked to it.” (10 March)

Is it true? It comes from a 2000 paper by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which found that 3.2 million UK jobs are “associated directly” with exports to the EU, but it also said, “there is no a priori reason to suppose that many of these [jobs], if any, would be lost permanently if Britain were to leave the EU”.


Nick Clegg warns about the danger of leaving the bloc

Europe costs £50m a day

Who said it? Labour Leave: “The UK gives Brussels £50m every day, £350m every week.” As well as Douglas Carswell, Vote Leave, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel. 

Is it true? The statistics Labour Leave cited were shown to have been gathered in error – the figure is actually £35m a day, of which some £18m is reinvested in the UK.

No, it’s £17m.

Mobile phone roaming charges would go up if we left

Who said it? The Association of British Travel Agents, ABTA, last week warned that Brexit might allow surcharges on calls, texts and browsing on the continent to be reimposed. 

Is it true? Surcharges in the EU will be abolished next year. InFacts, the pro-EU fact-checking service, says they are “likely” to stay abolished after Brexit, but that this “depends on the deal we get”.


British soldiers would be forced to join an EU army

Who said it? Nigel Farage: “In Brussels, they are hell-bent on building a European army, navy and air force.”

Is it true? Article 42(2) of the Treaty of European Union has a clause relating to common defence, but for it to be invoked would require unanimous support from member states. That would include the UK having to hold a referendum on the topic. Britain couldn’t be dragged in against its will.


Tariffs would be charged on our exports to the EU if we left

Who said it? David Cameron: before we joined the EU, “we faced extremely high tariffs – 14 per cent on cars, 17 per cent on bicycles, 32 per cent on salt, 37 per cent on china”. 

Is it true? The usual rule is that existing rules apply until new ones are negotiated, but the EU might regard the UK as part of the “existing” outside world – the average tariff charged by the EU on imports from outside is now around 3 per cent.  

Not clear: tariffs might be imposed while complex negotiations take place.

OUT: Boris Johnson dismissed claims he choose to back Brexit for personal gain

EU law prevents the recycling of tea bags 

Who said it? Boris Johnson: “Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a tea bag.”

Is it true? After the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, the EU introduced rules on the disposal of goods which had been in touch with meat and milk. But it didn’t cover tea bags. No.

“Free movement” into the UK would still be allowed even if we left

Who said it? David Cameron says Leavers won’t say what the UK’s relationship with the EU would be. Would we be like Norway or Switzerland, in which case we would have to sign up to all the EU’s rules, including the free movement of EU workers, to have access to the single market? Or would we be like Canada, in which case we would face tariff and non-tariff barriers (such as a refusal to recognise our professional qualifications) to selling in Europe. 

Is it true? Boris Johnson implied on The Andrew Marr Show (6 March) that he would require EU citizens to have a job offer before they came to the UK. 

Not clear: As prime minister, Boris Johnson would probably impose restrictions on free movement and the EU would probably retaliate.

UK will be subject to a European public prosecutor

Who said it? Vote Leave: “The Lisbon Treaty made provision for a European Public Prosecutor … The position is set to be introduced in the near future.”

Is it true? The Lisbon Treaty did allow for such a post to be created, but Britain has an opt-out. 


IN: Emma Thompson said: “Of course I’m going to vote to stay in Europe. Are you kidding? It would be madness not to.” (Getty)

The EU blocks heathland house-building to protect birds from cats

Who said it? Michael Gove: “EU rules dictate … the distance houses have to be from heathland to prevent cats chasing birds.”

Is it true? It is a recommendation, not a law, and the 5km suggested boundary comes from Natural England – Britain, not Brussels.


EU referendum polls

Phone polls tend to show more support for Remain than online polls. ComRes, the Independent on Sunday’s pollster, says online polls tend to attract too many politically engaged respondents, who tend to be more anti-EU than average. The phone poll average does not include last week’s from ORB, which showed Remain on 49 per cent and Leave on 51 per cent, because it did not ask the precise question that will be on the ballot paper. The uncertainty about the polls is a good reason for recalling the lesson of the 2015 election. Then, journalists allowed reporting to be skewed by polls that turned out to be skewed themselves. So, notice the polls by all means, but let us hope that the debate over the remaining 95 days is about the issues.

Who’s who for In or Out


Prince William: “In an increasingly turbulent world, our ability to unite in common action with other nations is essential.” (Speech at Foreign Office, 16 February 2016)

Press office insisted his comments were “not about Europe”. 


The Queen: The EU was going in the wrong direction, she said to Nick Clegg over lunch at Windsor Castle in 2011, according to The Sun, which headlined its front page, “Queen Backs Brexit”. She probably doesn’t, but was also reported to have told MPs at an undated reception at  Buckingham Palace: “I don’t understand Europe.” 

OUT: Copies of Britain's 'The Sun' on sale om 9 March (PA)


Barack Obama: “Having the UK in the EU gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union, and is part of the cornerstone of the institutions built after [the Second World War] that has made the world safer and more prosperous.” 

President Obama is flying in on 21 April to repeat his appeal on UK soil. 


John Howard, former prime minister of Australia: “If I were British, I would vote to leave ... once you set in motion the process towards political integration it either becomes unstoppable, or it begins to fall apart, and I think on either ground there is a case for Britain leaving.”


Richard Branson: “I’m sort of a  bit distracted with space at the moment, but I think it would be a very, very, very, very sad day if British people voted to leave. I think it would be very, very damaging for Great Britain.” 

IN: Barack Obama is expected to visit the UK in April to speak against Brexit (Getty)


Luke Johnson, chairman of Patisserie Valerie, former boss of Pizza Express and Channel 4. The EU is “sclerotic, backward-looking. It was formed as an economic entity; I worry that it’s transmogrified into something wholly different ... the idea that trade will be stopped if we leave is fantasy.” 


Emma Thompson: “Of course I’m going to vote to stay in Europe. Are you kidding? It would be madness not to. It’s a crazy idea not to. We should be taking down borders, not putting them up.” 


Michael Caine: “What you’ve got in Europe is a government-by-proxy of everybody, who [sic] has now got carried away. You cannot be dictated to by thousands of faceless civil servants. I sort of feel certain we should come out.” 


Stephen Hawking: “If the UK leaves the EU and there is a loss of freedom of movement of scientists between the UK and Europe, it will be a disaster for UK science and universities.” (Letter to The Times, from Hawking and 150 other Cambridge University scientists, mathematicians, engineers and economists, 10 March 2016)


Joan Collins: “I’d get us out of the European Union as I don’t think it has done anything for the British people. The EU, controlled from Brussels, cares only about itself.” 


Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England: He could not “provide a blanket assurance that there would not be issues in the short term with respect to financial stability, and that potential reduction in financial stability could be associated – and normally would be associated – with poor economic outcomes”. 

OUT: Ukip leader Nigel Farage campaigning for a ‘Brexit’ in Essex (PA)


Rupert Murdoch: “UK Brexit campaign gathers force as government makes obviously false claims aimed at scaring voters. Early days yet.” (Twitter, 3 March 2016)

The Sun (see Queen) has been hostile to David Cameron’s renegotiation and must be likely to back a Leave vote. But Murdoch may hedge his bets with The Times and Sunday Times, which could be neutral.  

In Robert Chote, Chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility: “A vote to leave in the forthcoming referendum could usher in an extended period of uncertainty regarding the precise terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.”

Outers were furious that the Chancellor had selectively quoted from the impartial OBR report, which also said: “It is not for us to judge at this stage what the impact of ‘Brexit’ might be on the economy.” 


Tim Martin, founder of Wetherspoon: “I was baffled by the fact that most of [the EU’s] political proponents were a middle-aged and older male elite who’d almost all been to one of Britain’s great universities, yet wished to surrender power to a non-democratic institution in Europe.

Clearly, if the UK decides to leave the EU, it would be in the economic and other interests of this country and our European neighbours to have friendly relations, strong business links, including free trade, and, I believe, free movement of labour.” 

Too close to call?


Sir Michael Jackson, Chief of the General Staff 2003-06: “Until recently, my inclination was to leave … [But] Brexit would impose considerable after-shocks on the EU, compounding the immigration and euro crises.”


Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey’s character in US House of Cards, written by Michael Dobbs): “If I were a Brit I wonder if I’d be more afraid to stay in the EU than to leave. It’s always easy to whip up a feeling of fear about change, but it infects mostly those who sit in comfort and dine on fois gras. Me, I’ve always been a spare ribs man. I need something to chew on. And spit out.”