You can’t have your cake and Eat it – Lies and false promises in the Leave campaign 2016

The Vote Leave campaign was one of unrelenting aggression, led by the very same individuals now in charge of this country today. They told people whose lives had been blighted by job losses and austerity that their difficulties could be put right if only we left the EU. The reality is of course that problems of employment, health, education, housing, transport, social care, etc, have nothing whatsoever to do with the EU but are failings of the UK government in Westminster. Nevertheless, the lies were believed by large numbers.

Now, three years on from the campaign in 2016, we can compare what was said then with the reality of the situation today.

Some of the claims made were:

We send £350m per week to the EU. Let’s fund our NHS instead.

Reality: This was not true as we don’t pay anything like £18bn per annum to the EU, and the sum is actually substantially reduced by the rebate negotiated by the then PM Margaret Thatcher. Much is returned to the UK as funding: for poorer regions, and for research and other programmes. After Brexit, a weakened UK economy will have no surplus for additional funding. Meanwhile, the NHS suffers staff shortages as EU doctors and nurses return home, understandably feeling they are no longer welcome here.

Vote Leave to cut immigration

Reality: The implication was that once freedom of movement for EU citizens had ended, immigration would be much reduced, despite non-EU immigration being in greater numbers. But immigrant labour (and skills) are needed in the UK, and without EU freedom of movement, it will be necessary to recruit from countries further afield. Future trade deals with countries beyond Europe, such as India will, in all probability, involve some form of UK visa rights for their nationals, and it is therefore unlikely that overall migration numbers will in fact be cut.

Ending EU freedom of movement also means that UK citizens lose their right to study, live work and retire in other EU countries, with access to local health services. This loss, and particularly the curtailed opportunities for young British people, was never mentioned by the Leave campaign.

Five million more migrants could enter Britain if Turkey joins the EU

Reality: For as long as the UK remains a member of the EU, we have a veto on Turkey, or any other country, joining the EU. With the lack of human rights in that country and problems of democratic accountability, there is no prospect of Turkey being approved for EU membership in the foreseeable future. This particular spurious claim was reinforced by posters showing long lines of Syrian refugees entering Europe; nothing whatsoever to do with Turkey joining the EU.

If we vote Leave, we hold all the cards; we can choose the path we want

Reality: One of the Brexit delusions is that the UK and the EU are equal negotiating partners in a ‘purchasing deal’ which we could just walk away from, as though buying a car. In fact the EU is a club in which the UK has been very influential in developing the rules, for example in the Single market. A better analogy is a marriage where, on a divorce walking away is merely just one event and there are many things to sort out. “Getting Brexit done” will actually take many years as we’ll still need to agree trade deals.

While the UK is still a member of the EU, we are one among many and, once we are an ex-member, we will be treated as an external “third country” with very much less influence. It is already clear that choosing the path some want is not possible if that conflicts with the core principles of the EU.

A free trade deal with the EU should be one of the easiest in history. It should be agreed by Brexit day

Reality: It is now understood that a trade deal of this magnitude and complexity normally involves negotiations extending over five years or more.  All the negotiations so far have been on the terms of leaving; a future trade deal will only be considered once the UK has actually left the EU. By then it will be a “third country” with no more rights than countries anywhere else in the world.

A raft of new trade deals will be ready by March 2019

Reality: By leaving the EU, we are giving up access to some 90 trade deals already secured for us as EU members through the negotiating power of the EU.  In contrast, the UK, as a much smaller market, will have considerably less negotiating power to secure good deals.  Much is made of future deals with America and Australia, although these are fraught with difficulties, and will be small compared with the trade we are losing by leaving the EU. America is very keen to sell us agricultural products and increase the costs of their Pharmaceuticals.

A high tech customs solution will make frictionless borders simple

Reality: The credibility of high tech customs solutions has already been exposed in the context of the border in Ireland. It is just not plausible that such an approach will secure frictionless trade with the EU in any foreseeable timescale.

This has highlighted the crucial issues on the island of Ireland caused by any form of Brexit.  These were never even mentioned by the Leave campaign in 2016.

Britain will take back control of its fisheries

Reality: Fishing rights will inevitably become part of wider trade negotiations and it is unlikely that the UK will be able to secure exclusive rights for British fishermen once wider trade-offs are under negotiation.  What is already clear, is the devastating effect on the British shell fish industry once customs checks are imposed on live exports to EU countries.  This never featured in the Leave campaign. Trading caught fish with other EU countries counts for a very large percentage due to their populations preferring the taste of the fish in our waters and vice versa. See Edition 2 of the BBC TV programme: ‘What Britain buys and sells in a day’ broadcast 12 October 2019.

Against this background, it is not surprising that public opinion has changed since 2016.  A “poll of polls” published by the Evening Standard in October 2019 shows a majority of voters are now consistently in favour of remaining in the EU.  A further study published in The Independent shows that there is much wider support for another referendum than is popularly believed, and that it is likely that the outcome would be for Britain to remain in the EU.

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