Misleading claims and counter-claims from both the Leave and Remain camps on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union have confused the public and impoverished political debate, according to the Treasury Select Committee’s chairman.
Andrew Tyrie used the publication of the committee’s report into the economic and financial costs and benefits of the UK’s EU membership to blast both sides of the campaign.
He called for an amnesty on misleading, “and at times bogus”, claims, as the public are “thoroughly fed up with them”.
Treasury committee members include prominent Brexiteers and those backing the Remain camp, who agreed a unanimous report after examining the various claims made in recent months.
The report found Vote Leave’s core campaign number – the idea leaving the EU would give the country a £350m a week fiscal windfall to spend on hospitals and schools – is “highly misleading”.
A suggestion this money can and should be spent on the NHS decorates that campaign’s “battle bus” and its persistence with the claim was deemed “deeply troubling”, the report added.
Remain campaigners were also criticised in the report. Claims 3 million jobs are dependent on continued EU membership were, in the committee’s view, “misleading”, and might well lead the public, as the committee put it, to “form the mistaken impression that all these jobs would be lost” in the event Britain exited the EU.
The report concluded the claim families will be worse off by £4,300 a year as a result of Brexit “is likely to be misconstrued by readers... and has probably confused them”.
It also noted claims around alleged savings on EU red tape and the cost of food from the Leave campaign, along with claims about the effect on mortgages, pensions, house prices and family incomes from the other side, require heavy qualification and careful explanation, so are liable to be misunderstood.
Any single number purporting to measure the impact of staying or leaving inevitably over-simplifies the complexities underlying the question on the ballot paper, the commission stated.
As for the “few grains of truth” within a “mountain of exaggeration and unqualified assertion”, the committee found:
|A few facts:|
First, a period of uncertainty will almost certainly accompany Brexit and it is “plausible” this would “weaken the pound, reduce domestic and foreign direct investment, and increase borrowing costs”. The balance of evidence strongly supports the view that there will be a short-term economic cost to Brexit.
Second, in the longer-term trade with the EU is likely to fall. The balance of evidence suggests this will also carry an economic cost, although this is more uncertain. Much will depend on the new trade arrangements that would be put in place.
Third, the committee noted Brexit could create potentially beneficial opportunities: to improve the regulatory framework and to strike new trade and better trade deals with countries outside the EU.
A key question is whether the risks of the first two are worth opportunities that could accompany the third, stated the report.