The three leaders made a lot of assertions on Thursday. Writers from The Independent test their veracity.
Claim: "Three million jobs depend on our membership of the European Union, half our trade is with the European Union, 750,000 businesses." (Gordon Brown)
Fact: Estimates of how many jobs depend on European trade vary widely and are usually politically driven. Given that about a third of our national income comes from trade and that the rest of the EU is our largest trading partner by far, and indeed responsible for about half our external trade, it does not seem an unreasonable estimate; about 10 per cent of the workforce and about 15 per cent of the economy. The figure of 750,000 businesses is also plausible, though fairly meaningless; it could be 100,000 if they all decided to merge.
The question is whether the EU might still trade with us if we pulled out of the EU; the chances are it would, as the UK's deficit with the rest of the EU is so substantial: £15.3bn with Germany alone last year. More to the point, perhaps, is that much of the EU is growing only very slowly, and that the UK's exports to fast-growing economies such as China are expanding much more rapidly.
Claim: "The European Union ... is a club that took 15 years to define chocolate in a chocolate directive." (Nick Clegg)
Fact: An EU directive introduced in 1973 defined what could be in products labelled "chocolate". However, the definition didn't include the chocolate produced by British manufacturers until 27 years later. The delay was due to the amount of cocoa butter and milk in chocolate in different countries. Britain and Ireland produce chocolate with higher milk content than on the continent, and use other vegetable fats as substitutes for cocoa butter. There was a failed attempt to include these products in the definition in 1984, but it wasn't until 2000 that other European nations accepted that this could be also be called chocolate.
Claim: "Up until 1997 the highest number for net migration into the UK was about 77,000 in a year. Since 1997, since Labour came to power, it has never been lower than 140,000; sometimes it has been 200,000. That's equivalent to two million across a decade." (David Cameron)
Fact: This is broadly accurate, although a little misleading. The highest number for net migration prior to 1997 was in fact 79,000, in 1981. Also, while a figure of 200,000 a year does of course equal 2 million across a decade, that is not what has actually occurred. The figure has often been substantially lower than that, such as in 2008, when it was 135,000.
Claim: "There are 2 million pensioners in poverty." (Nick Clegg)
Fact: The latest Office for National Statistics report estimated that there are two million pensioners in poverty in Britain, defined as those living on less than 60 per cent of the median UK income after deducting housing costs. There were 900,000 fewer pensioners living in poverty in 2008 than the 2.9 million recorded in 1998/99. These gains have not been distributed equally; pension inequality is on the rise. Whilst it is true those living below the 60 per cent poverty baseline declined 10 per cent between 1994 and 2008, the proportion of those who fell below the 50 per cent threshold did not. The report also found that, despite the winter-fuel subsidy, one million single-person households aged 60 or over were in fuel poverty in 2007.
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