Statistics watchdog blasts Johnson over £350m EU contribution claim

18 Sep 17

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has come under fire from the statistics watchdog for repeating the controversial claim that the NHS could get £350m a week after the UK leaves the EU.

Leave campaigners in the Brexit referendum argued that the UK could retain the  £350m it allegedly sends to the EU to pay for public services like the NHS. However, this figure is widely disputed.

Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, issued an open letter to the foreign secretary criticising him in response to a 4,000 word article written by Johnson and published in the Sunday Telegraph.

The pro-Brexit cabinet minister stated in his letter in the paper “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week.”

“It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

However political opponents from inside and outside the Conservative party have rubbished these claims and Norgrove also openly rebuked the foreign secretary.

He wrote: “I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union. 

“This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave.”

He added: “It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”

The £350m figure was cited as the amount the UK sent to the EU every week in 2014 but the UK Statistics Authority argues it conflates gross and net contributions made to the bloc.

According to BBC Reality Check, in 2014 the UK sent the EU a gross contribution of £361m a week. However, when the rebate is taken into account, this is £276m a figure that does not include various EU funds received by the UK such as farming subsidies and grants for community projects.

Johnson accused the statistics chief of a “complete misrepresentation of what I said” and demanded that the letter be withdrawn.

In a letter back to Norgrove, Johnson said: “I must say that I was surprised and disappointed by your letter… since it was based on what appeared to be a wilful distortion of the text in my article.”  

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