Scepter of spin: Both pro-EU & Brexit campaigns are ‘spreading misinformation’

© Toby Melville
Pro and anti-Brexit campaigners locked in a battle for supremacy are distorting the truth ahead of Britain’s EU referendum, as Project Fear’s scepter of spin continues to blend fact with fiction.

Academics and fact checkers issued this warning in a study published on Monday, which deconstructs arguments made for and against a Brexit.

The report, which was authored by scholars from ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ and fact checking group Full Fact, concludes that Britain’s ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ campaigns are spreading disinformation as the June 23 vote draws closer.

The study uncovers multiple myths peddled by campaigners on both sides of the Brexit battle line, and warns that Brits are being “bombarded” with conflicting information that is either not backed up by evidence or is simply untrue. Below is a list of arguments deconstructed in the report.

1. UK gives Brussels £350mn each week 

The key ‘leave’ argument that Britain funnels £350 million (US$507 million) each week to Brussels is incorrect, the report argues, because it doesn’t factor in the rebate Westminster gets on UK contributions to the EU.

2. EU membership makes UK households £3,000 richer 

The report also dismisses the ‘remain’ claim peddled by business lobby the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) that EU membership leaves every household in the UK £3,000 better off. It says the data used to make this calculation comes from a series of piecemeal reports, published over a decade-long period.

3. Better border security can only come with a Brexit 

The report challenges the ‘leave’ argument that a Brexit is necessary to bolster Britain’s border security in a climate of mass immigration. It says free movement of labor across Europe would still remain in force if a post-Brexit Britain wanted to stay within the single market bloc.

4. Britain is safer in the EU 

The ‘remain’ position that Britain is safer in the EU was questioned by the study, whose authors noted that Westminster already has bilateral defense and security agreements with a number of key nations, including the US.

5. EU run by unelected European Commission (EC) bureaucrats 

Euroskeptics’ long-held claim that an unelected band of European Commission (EC) officials control the EU was debunked by the report. This position, the report said, exaggerates the Commission’s power, while understating the role of other EU institutions in amending, debating and passing legislation. 

The report also argued the claim ignores powers and influence held by nation states across the bloc.

6. Britain is too important to EU to be hit with post-Brexit economic hardball 

Suggestions by the ‘leave’ camp that the EU is too reliant on Britain’s membership to play a tough hand in post-Brexit economic policy negotiations are rejected by the report.

The study says that 44 percent of UK exports end up in Europe, while a mere 5 percent of the of the EU’s exports overall are derived from Britain. The report notes, however, that UK exports to Europe are in decline.

7. Majority of UK laws are EU-influenced 

‘Remain’ campaigners say that 65 percent of UK laws implemented between 1993 and 2014 were influenced by Brussels.The information was derived from a database of EU law, which researchers used to filter through EU regulations passed between 1993 and 2014.

However, both Full Fact and UK in a Changing Europe say the data is unreliable. Their report argues EC data is a better source for tracking the evolution of UK law-making with respect to EU influence.

8. Cutting through the spin

Director of Full Fact Will Moy said the group’s key objective is to cut through the spin and furnish people with cold, hard facts.

“Our mission is to cut through the rhetoric and arm people with the facts, by providing impartial, independent analysis,” he said.

“Whichever side they end up on, it is very important that they are able to access reliable information from an impartial source.”

Director of UK in a Changing Europe Professor Amnad Menon said public debate on the referendum is drenched with conflicting claims.

“Many of these are at best unsupported by evidence, and at worse simply untrue. Unsurprisingly, many people do not know what to believe or who to trust,” he said.

“This analyses provide some clarity for those confused by the competing claims and unsure which 'facts' to trust. With such a large decision to make, the British people deserve to be properly informed.”