The most audacious lie of the referendum campaign was the Remainers’ claim about immigration

The most audacious lie of the referendum campaign was the Remainers’ claim about immigration

Lies aren’t a rare thing in politics, sadly, but it is certainly rare to see one like this – one which has been openly admitted by a string of politicians, who are presumably brazenly hoping that nobody will notice. Now let’s be brutally honest here: neither Remain nor Leave exactly covered themselves in glory with their approach to the referendum campaign. Whether it was threats of “the end of Western political civilisation as we know it”, hints of World War III or threats of nearly a million job losses from Remain – or the infamous £350 million per week claim plastered on the side of a bus by Vote Leave which could have been better phrased – there were inaccuracies which ended up backfiring on the campaigns making the claim.

Yet one of the most audacious of lies has gone completely under the radar. Remember this one, which was trotted out in hustings up and down the country whenever the issue of uncontrolled immigration was mentioned?

“And there are almost as many Brits living elsewhere in the EU as there are other EU nationals in Britain.”

This lie was trotted out time and again in order to undermine Leave claims that it’s important for the UK to be able to control our borders after leaving the European Union; if it were true, then they could further argue that the pluses and minuses of such migration broadly balance out. It’s generally accepted on both sides that immigration can bring benefits; the difference is whether uncontrolled immigration from the European Union is a good or a bad thing.

If we did indeed live in a society where as many people moved to and from the UK to continental Europe, then it would have made the Remain case very slightly easier to argue. Instinctively that claim felt like it must be inaccurate: one of the big drivers for people to move to the UK from the rest of the EU is that English is the most-commonly taught foreign language in schools across the EU. If you’re looking to move somewhere, you’re likely to go where you speak some of the language. Irrespective of tabloid arguments over benefits, or a relatively-prosperous society with massive economic disparities, the language issue will always lead to different flows of migration.

The claim, though, is simply not true. Its chief proponent during the referendum campaign was Labour’s Richard Corbett MEP, and it’s still on his website today. Other MEPs such as Derek Vaughan have kept a version of it for posterity too. The Business For New Europe site makes the same claim and even Labour’s press team have made it.

So, how do we think that pro-EU Labour politicians would vote on this claim: “There are currently around 3.2 million citizens of the remaining 27 Member States (EU-27) resident in the United Kingdom and 1.2 million citizens of the United Kingdom (‘UK citizens’) resident in the EU-27” (The claim is Recital A of this text).

I spotted this text in the European Parliament Brexit resolution and forced a separate vote on those specific words. The words are a ‘Recital’ to the text, which means that they’re basic background information. Vote for or against, it won’t change the nature of the Brexit resolution – recitals are all about statements of fact. If a statement of fact is true, there’s no harm in voting in favour. If it’s a false statement, you vote against.

By forcing the vote, I forced those Labour politicians to make a decision about what to do. If they voted in favour, they’d be admitting to a clear lie during the campaign: 3.2 million and 1.2 million are not ‘about the same’, however you look at it. Yet if they voted against, they would be arguing that the European Union’s factual information was completely inaccurate. The text was a basic statement of fact.

The votes came in and, surprise surprise, every Labour MEP present voted in favour of those words (see page 63 of this document). They claim one thing during a referendum campaign, but vote in the European Parliament and admit completely the opposite. The figures themselves are broadly accurate, and they were after all merely stating a fact – so UKIP, Labour, Conservatives, Greens and even the Liberal Democrat all supported it. The difference was that those who’d claimed otherwise were admitting to their lie.

It’s one thing to tell a few porkies during a referendum campaign; it’s entirely another to head into a Parliament and, in effect, vote to state that they weren’t true.

The next time you see a Remain voter argue that the £350 million per week claim was dishonest, you can remind them that this claim was at least based in fact: the gross membership fee is indeed roughly that (though the context does matter: only the net fee could reasonably be spent on anything else).

Remain claims attempting to pull the wool over our eyes on immigration have no basis in fact whatsoever. Will the national newspapers respond by savaging the Remain campaign in the way they did the Vote Leave £350 million per week claim? I’m not holding my breath.