There are many myths about our membership of the European Union.
Reality is sometimes a little different, as we see below…

Are the British simply different?

Yes, and so is every other country! All have their different languages, cultures, histories and laws. No-one joins the EU in order to lose their identity. The EU contains no majority language group or culture; we are all minorities. In fact, the EU’s motto is “United in Diversity”. 

Evidence It was Margaret Thatcher who said that being in Europe hadn’t made the French any less French, and on this she was right. Being in Europe hasn’t made us any less British either!

Switzerland and Norway survive perfectly well outside the EU

Be careful what you wish for! Switzerland and Norway are both small countries with specialised and niche economies: Switzerland with its often-criticised banking system, and Norway with its massive oil reserves. But their industries have to follow EU rules as that’s their main market. As non-members, they have no say over the adoption of those EU rules. They cannot defend their interests. They have, effectively, lost sovereignty through their isolation, as the Norwegian government itself admits/

Evidence Nor does staying out save money as the Norwegian contribution per capita to the European budget is about the same as that of the UK! For the Norwegians, being non-members, it’s taxation without representation. Evidence

We thought we were only joining a free trade zone

Not true. We were never hoodwinked. We actually left a free trade zone (EFTA) to join the EU, specifically because we felt free trade was not enough. The Wilson government, setting out its reasons for applying in 1967, stressed that Europe is now faced with the opportunity of a great move forward in political unity and we can and indeed we must play our full part in it. And before the referendum in 1975, national newspapers on both left and right were clear that political, not just economic, integration was proposed and would be a positive outcome. Evidence

The European Court of Human Rights is forcing us to…..

The European Court of Human Rights has nothing to do with the EU. It’s an entirely separate institution, with separate membership, set up by Britain after World War II to enforce the Convention on Human Rights which we helped to write. Britain has always been a signatory to this convention, and leaving the EU wouldn’t change that. Evidence Incidentally, despite the widespread myth that the European Court of Human Rights and the UK are forever at loggerheads, figures show that the Court rules against the UK in less than 1% of all the cases we are involved in! Evidence

EU health tourism costs the NHS billions

In fact, official figures from the Department of Health show that the opposite is true! The cost to other European countries of treating Brits abroad is more than five times the cost to the NHS of treating EU visitors here. In other words, we benefit enormously from the EU rules, without which the NHS would be £125 million worse off each year. Evidence This is not really a surprise. Brits who travel abroad tend to be older and so the healthcare they get abroad is more expensive. Other EU citizens who come to the UK are relatively younger and healthier, so they are less likely to need medical treatment while they’re here.

British businesses are drowning in EU red tape

Not true. When we get it right, EU legislation is an exercise in cutting red tape! After all, we need common rules for the common market to protect workers, consumers and the environment. When we replace 28 divergent sets of national rules with a single set of pan-European rules, we can cut duplication and compliance costs. Just one example: it’s now possible to register a trademark once, valid across 28 countries, instead of having to do 28 different sets of form-filling, registering, troubleshooting and fee-paying. Evidence EU technical standards are generally drafted and agreed by the industry themselves. This means that most standards are based on the national regulations that they replace, rather than brand new requirements. Of course, we would need those rules anyway, but sharing them across the entire market means businesses only have to work to one set of standards rather than 28. Evidence Simplifying the compliance framework for businesses in particular has been a major priority of the European Commission in recent years. The REFIT programme is a rolling scheme to evaluate, simplify and repeal rules. Evidence

The European Parliament is a rubber-stamp parliament

Not true. In fact, the European Parliament is much better than national parliaments at saying no to controversial proposals. And of the proposals that it accepts, very few go through without significant amendment. Evidence In this way, the European Parliament is much more effective than national parliaments such as Westminster, as there’s no compliant government majority to ensure that proposals are whipped through. Just think about it: it’s headline news if MPs ever vote against the government’s wishes!

Britons lose out because of EU migration

Not true. British people are the EU’s biggest beneficiaries of the right to settle anywhere in the EU: more British people live in other EU countries than any other nationality! And there are about as many Brits living elsewhere in the EU as there are other EU nationals in Britain. Evidence In reality, only 3.6% of the UK population is from another EU country. Most migration in the UK is from outside the EU, which means freedom of movement rules don’t apply and it’s completely up to the British government how to manage this migration. Evidence And EU migrants are net contributors to the economy. Between 2001 and 2011, they contributed 34% more in taxes than they took out in benefits and services. Evidence Compared to the UK average, EU migrants are more highly educated, more likely to be employed, and much less likely to claim benefits. Evidence

Our most important markets are China and the US, not the EU

Not true. The EU is the world’s biggest single market, and it’s far and away our biggest trading partner, amounting to well over half of our world exports. Indeed, we export more to Holland alone than to the entirety of the Commonwealth. Evidence The same applies to our imports, with European countries providing about two thirds of our incoming goods and services. Evidence

The EU accounts have never been signed

Not true. There is a persistent myth (reliably recycled every year by UK newspapers) that the European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the EU’s accounts, but this is entirely false. In the most recent audit year (2017), the Court gave a clean bill of health to the accounts for the tenth time in a row  This means every euro spent from the EU budget was duly recorded in the books and accounted for. Evidence According to the European Court of Auditors, around 0.2% of the EU budget may have been subject to fraud. Any amount of possible fraud is unacceptable and needs challenging. But it’s worth noting that the figure of 0.2% is much lower than most national budgets! Evidence

EU membership costs us a fortune

Not true. In fact, our own (rather eurosceptic) government estimates that EU membership is worth £3000 a year to every British family. And the budget for the whole EU is just 1% of GDP, compared to about 49% spent by national governments. That’s just 2% of our public spending each year. Evidence Each country pays a contribution to the budget proportional to its wealth, so wealthier countries pay more. The exact amount varies each year, but over the seven-year cycle 2007-2013 our net annual contribution was £3.8 billion, or about £63 per person. The UK’s contribution is actually much lower than other similar sized economies such as Germany and France, partly because we get a special rebate. Evidence This contribution must be weighed against the financial benefits of our access to the single market. In 2011, the UK government estimated this to be between £30 billion and £90 billion per year €” so a return on investment of between 800% and 2370%. Evidence Many thousands of projects in the UK benefit each year. Detailed lists

The EU forces its will on member countries

Not true. Firstly, we don’t decide anything at EU level unless all member countries have explicitly agreed by treaty to do so and even then, each piece of legislation is agreed by national governments. For sensitive matters like tax and foreign affairs, the requirement for this agreement is complete unanimity, and in other areas, there is a very high qualified majority threshold. As a former Conservative UK minister admits, “It is very hard to find an EU regulation of significance that has been forced on an unwilling British minister who voted against it” Evidence

Most of our laws come from Brussels

Not true. The independent House of Commons library found that the real proportion is just 13.2% of our laws. And these figures include everything that even mentions the EU, even if it’s just a passing reference or a definition, according to the researchers! Evidence

Europe is run by a sprawling bureaucracy

Not true. The European Commission has fewer employees than a medium-sized city council in the UK. Evidence

European laws are made by unelected bureaucrats

Not true. The European Commission doesn’t make laws. It only makes proposals, which are then debated, amended and passed (or rejected) by elected national governments and directly-elected MEPs. In any case, Commissioners themselves are accountable to the European Parliament, which elects its president, approves its appointment and can dismiss it.

British businesses are clamouring for us to leave the EU

Not true. You wouldn’t believe it from the eurosceptic rhetoric, but in fact, both British businesses and inward investors have been emphatic that Britain must stay in!

  • 85% of British manufacturers want us to remain in the EU, according to a 2014 survey by the British manufacturers’ association EEF. The association represents 600,000 companies of all sizes. Evidence
  • Small businesses support EU membership. The Federation of Small Businesses argued in 2014 that the EU is good for business, and 20% of its members trade overseas. Evidence
  • The Confederation of British Industry is a strong advocate for EU membership. British industry argues that the benefits significantly outweigh the costs and that it’s vital to our global competitiveness that we stay a member. Evidence
  • The head of the UK government’s export credit guarantee agency reports EU membership is “critical” for exporting around the world. Evidence
  • British Chambers of Commerce members overwhelmingly want the UK to stay in the EU, and think withdrawal would have a bad impact on their future. Evidence
  • Members of the Institute of Directors strongly support EU membership, with members voting more than three to one against UK exit in 2013. Evidence
  • An independent poll of the top 500 British businesses in 2015 found that only 1% of boardroom bosses wanted to leave the EU. Evidence
  • The financial sector in the City of London thinks that EU membership is an “enormous benefit”. Evidence
  • A group of top free-market economists pointed out in 2014 that UK withdrawal from the EU would be a “grave threat” and would cause foreign investment to dry up. Evidence
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