Arguments and allegations are flying as Britons grapple with how to vote in a June 23 referendum on whether to stay in the European Union or walk away. Opponents say the 28-nation bloc is a bureaucratic behemoth that sucks up billions from British taxpayers while imposing undemocratic laws — even dictating the maximum curvature of bananas. Supporters argue that Britain’s prosperity and security benefit from EU membership. A look at some of the claims by both sides and how they compare with the facts:
‘They’re against bendy bananas’
CLAIM: The EU makes most of Britain’s laws it even regulates the shape of bananas.
THE FACTS: Opponents of the EU argue that what began in the 1950s as a trading bloc has ballooned in scale and ambition, making policy in areas once reserved for national lawmakers.
As an example of legislative heavy-handedness, Britain’s tabloid press loves to cite the claim that the EU bans “bendy bananas” and crooked cucumbers.
A 1994 EU regulation did indeed specify that bananas must be “free from abnormal curvature.” EU rules also governed the shape of many other fruits and vegetables — cucumbers, for example, needed to be almost perfectly straight. Many of these specifications were abolished in 2008, though the banana guidelines remain on the books.
VERDICT: Partially true
‘It’s costing us billions’
CLAIM: The EU costs British taxpayers almost half a billion dollars a week.
THE FACTS: The figure, cited by anti-EU group Vote Leave, comes from the House of Commons Library, which estimates that Britain paid £17.8 billion (Dh85 billion) to the EU in 2015, roughly £350 million a week.
But Britain got half the money back, including £4.9 billion through a rebate negotiated by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The UKs net contribution in 2015 was £8.5 billion — about £165 million a week.
On a per capita basis, Britain is the eighth-biggest contributor to the EU budget, paying less per head than countries including Germany, the Netherlands and France.
VERDICT: Partially true
‘We’ll be broke outside’
CLAIM: Britain will be poorer outside the European Union.
THE FACTS: While the economic impact of a British exit is hard to predict, many economists believe that leaving the EU’s tariff-free internal trade and market of 500 million people would be an economic blow.
Trade with EU countries accounted for 45 per cent of UK exports and 53 per cent of imports in 2014. A Brexit would disrupt that trade, at least temporarily, while new agreements were negotiated — a process that could take several years.
Britain also would likely have to pay into EU funds to secure trade deals with the bloc, as non-EU members Norway and Switzerland currently do.
The London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Policy has calculated that, even if trade barriers with other European countries do not significantly increase, per capita income in Britain will fall by between 1.1 per cent and 3.1 per cent after a Brexit.
VERDICT: Partially true
‘We can stop the migrants …’
CLAIM: Britain will be able to control its borders and limit immigration if it leaves the EU.
THE FACTS: As a member of the European Union, Britain must allow citizens of all 27 other member states to live and work in the UK Britons can also move abroad, but over the last decade the traffic has been lopsided. The House of Commons Library estimates there are around 1.2 million Britons living in other EU countries, compared with around 3 million EU migrants living in Britain.
If Britain leaves the EU, it would regain the power to stop European Union migrants settling — but that is not the whole story. Countries outside the EU that have struck free-trade deals with the bloc, such as Norway and Switzerland, have had to allow EU nationals access to their job markets in return.
‘They’re coming here for benefits’
CLAIM: Economic migrants are drawn to the UK by generous welfare benefits, and limiting benefits will reduce immigration.
THE FACTS: EU leaders have agreed to let Britain impose a temporary ban on new arrivals from member states claiming some top-up benefits paid to lower-income workers.
The British government says this will help curb immigration by removing “the ‘pull factor’ arising from the UK benefits system.”
But there is little evidence that benefits are a pull factor for migrants. A recent study by the Overseas Development Institute said researchers had found “essentially zero evidence” for the notion that welfare systems pull migrants to wealthy countries. Most economists and policymakers think wages are a much bigger attraction. Britain’s minimum wage is £6.70 an hour, three times the rate in Poland and more than six times that in Romania.
‘We’ll be safer together’
CLAIM: Leaving the EU will make Britain less safe.
THE FACTS: Many top brass and former military chiefs oppose leaving the EU. A group of former generals, admirals and air marshals said in an open letter that “within the EU, we are stronger” and better able to confront threats including Daesh to growing Russian nationalism. Britain’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, says EU-wide mechanisms such as the European arrest warrant and passenger-record sharing are effective counter-terror measures.
Others point out that Britain would remain a nuclear power and a member of the Nato alliance if it left the EU. And the UK’s security also rests on its close intelligence-sharing relationship with the US, which would likely not be affected by EU withdrawal.