Boris Johnson 'misused' figures with £350m Brexit claim, UK statistics chief says

Foreign Secretary accused of deliberately misleading the public with the ‘surprising and disappointing’ claim

The former London Mayor was widely criticised for his 4000-word Brexit article, seen by many as a challenge to Theresa May’s leadership
The former London Mayor was widely criticised for his 4000-word Brexit article, seen by many as a challenge to Theresa May’s leadership

Boris Johnson has been criticised by the head of the UK Statistics Authority for repeating the infamous claim that Britain pays £350m per week to the EU.

In a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Sir David Norgrove accused Mr Johnson of a “clear misuse of statistics” after he once again claimed the amount could be investedin the NHS when Britain leaves the European Union.

The former London Mayor reiterated the widely refuted figure in a controversial 4000-word article for The Telegraph in which he outlined a vision for Britain after Brexit​.

Mr Johnson and other Leave campaigners used it as a campaigning tool during last year’s referendum campaign, including memorably plastering it on the side of a campaign bus.

The claim was exhaustively debunked by statisticians and news outlets, and even top Brexiteer Nigel Farage was quick to distance himself from it immediately after the referendum.

In his letter, Sir David once again repeated the explanation that the £350m statistic relates only to what the UK currently pays to the EU, and does not include the money that Britain receives in return.

It also assumes that current EU investment in Britain will simply cease after Brexit, rather than being continued by the UK Government.

He told Mr Johnson: “I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.

“This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave. It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”

Sir David’s predecessor, Sir Andrew Dilnot, had previously called the use of the £350m figure “misleading”.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "Boris' £350m lie has been exposed yet again. He knows an extreme Brexit would damage the economy and mean less cash for the NHS.

"I'm glad to see the independent UK Statistics Authority has the courage to slap Boris down.It's a shame the same can't be said of Theresa May."

In his latest article, Mr Johnson laid out his vision for a “glorious” Brexit.

He wrote: “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

He was widely criticised for the article, which was seen as signalling his continuous ambition to replace Ms May as Prime Minister. It was also published less than a day after a terrorist attack at Parsons Green Tube station injured 30 people, which was criticised as ill-timed and insensitive.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, also accused Mr Johnson of “backseat driving”.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I don’t want him managing the Brexit process. What we’ve got is Theresa May managing that process – and I’m going to make sure, as far as I’m concerned and the rest of the Cabinet is concerned, we help her do that.

“You could call it backseat driving, absolutely. But I’m very clear that the Cabinet and the Government supports Theresa May.”

Other senior Conservatives have also criticised Mr Johnson.

In a thinly-veiled attack, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, wrote on Twitter: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

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