Michael Gove has stoked Brexit anger after arguing that the discredited claim that leaving the EU would mean £350m-a-week more for the NHS is still trustworthy.
The ex-cabinet minister, who fell from grace during the Tory leadership contest, claimed the argument was still robust as the sum of money could be spent by a future government if it chose to.
The £350m claim was emblazoned across the side of the Vote Leave bus, but came to symbolise the slippery nature of the Brexit debate after the chair of the UK Statistics Authority branded it "misleading". Even Ukip’s Nigel Farage called it a "mistake".
But on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Gove was speaking on the role of experts in public debate when he was challenged over the veracity of £350m claim - which was repeatedly called out by experts.
He said: "Well that was a prediction. We can replay, I’m always happy to replay, the argument about £350m, because the figures are there.
"These are sums of money that come from the British taxpayer and go to the European Union."
He added: "We haven’t left the European Union yet, let’s wait to see…the money is there and it’s for the Government to decide how to spend it once we leave.
"People can look back at this year and say there are all sorts of things that they found uncomfortable and disconcerting, but we had an open public debate in this country, and as a result of that, the decision was taken on the basis of the quality of the argument, rather than the regal authority of the person making it."
Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, described the claim as potentially misleading in correspondence with Vote Leave, but when they continued to use it he said he was disappointed and that it was "misleading and undermines trust in official statistics".
Mr Farage, who was at the forefront of the rival Leave.EU campaign, was asked about the claim after the referendum and said: "No I can’t [guarantee it], and I would never have made that claim. That was one of the mistakes that I think the Leave campaign made."
Without a hint of irony, Mr Gove said during the BBC radio show that the public should not trust "experts" but should instead interrogate their claims and demand to see evidence.
He added: "Sometimes we're invited to take experts as though they were prophets, as though their words were carved in tablets of stone and that we had to simply meekly bow down before them and accept their verdict.
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
"I think the right response in a democracy to assertions made by experts is to say 'show us the evidence, show us the facts'.
"And then, if experts or indeed anyone in the debate can make a strong case, draw on evidence and let us think again, then of course they deserve respect."
He went on to cite an academic study that showed experts in a range of fields were more susceptible to group think, and that other experts besides economists could be treated as more reliable guides for future trends.
He added: "The people I was singling out for scepticism were those such as the economists from organisations like the IMF, who've got big issues like the wisdom of joining the euro wrong in the past.
"The IMF didn't just get the arguments wrong over the single currency, they called the EU referendum wrongly too."
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth tweeted: "Michael Gove on @BBCRadio4 telling us to always ask for evidence. Perhaps he can give us the evidence for his £350 million a week for NHS."Reuse content