Given how Remainers have lost no opportunity to accuse the official Leave campaign of telling porkies about how much money we send to the EU – £350 million per week according to Vote Leave but closer to a net £250 million once the UK rebate is taken into account – one might imagine that the 'People’s Vote' campaign would take extra special care over statements relating to financial contributions to the EU. But it seems not. It has been caught out doctoring a report written by an outside expert, leading to inaccurate claims about how EFTA members’ contributions to the EU are spent.
Yesterday, 'People’s Vote' published a report entitled ‘Why Norway Plus Won’t Work’, with a foreword by David Miliband and Jo Johnson. The report sets out to try to debunk the growing suggestion that the Brexit crisis could be resolved by Britain joining – or rather re-joining, since we were members prior to 1973 – the European Free Trade Association 'EFTA'. That would entail us adopting a similar relationship to the EU as Norway – in which we would be outside the EU but remain members of the single market. The ‘plus’ in ‘Norway Plus’ refers to the possibility that we would, in addition, remain in some sort of customs union with the EU in order to solve the Irish border question. Norway is outside the customs union and does have checks on its land borders with Sweden and Finland.
The paper states in its introduction:
'[Norway Plus] would give us less control over our money. The UK would send money to the EU but have no influence over how that money is spent. This would amount to taxation without representation – and, based on Norway’s current contributions per capita, we could end up paying roughly as much as we do now.'
The paper also clearly states: 'This report was written by Jonathan Lis, deputy director of the thinktank British Influence'.
In a Twitter exchange this morning Mr Lis has recognised that this is inaccurate but says he didn’t actually write those words. He tweets: 'I didn’t put that line in my draft. PV edited the summary.'
He then draws attention to what he actually wrote, and is contained within the body of the report:
'EEA EFTA states do not pay directly into the EU budget, but instead contribute to a compulsory instrument known as the EEA Financial Mechanism, which seeks to redress social inequalities in the EU – principally via grants to poorer countries inside the bloc. EEA EFTA states are responsible for where the money goes, but the amount is determined in negotiations (described by one official as ‘tough’) every five to seven years.'
So, in other words, far from ‘not having a say’ in how our contributions are spent we would have full control of our money – which is pretty well the opposite.
Oh dear. People’s Vote has always suffered from a slight problem with its name, which implies somehow that it wasn’t human beings who voted in the 2016 referendum – maybe they think it was cloven-hoofed beasts or potted plants who condemned us to Brexit. Its latest struggle with truth is not going to help it in its campaign to try to reverse the result of that referendum. Indeed, one of its arguments – that voters were somehow misguided by fibs by the Leave campaign – would seem to be somewhat undermined.