Reality Check: The EU referendum

Live Reporting

Did the OBR back staying in the EU?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Can it really be the case that suggesting a vote to leave the European Union would create uncertainty means you are backing the Remain side?

Some felt that the way chancellor George Osborne quoted the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in his Budget speech made the independent body seem in favour of staying in the EU.

This was the line he quoted: "Whatever the long-term pros or cons of the UK’s membership of the European Union, a vote to leave in the forthcoming referendum could usher in an extended period of uncertainty regarding the precise terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU."

"This could have negative implications for activity via business and consumer confidence and might result in greater volatility in financial and other asset markets."

Is there going to be uncertainty?

In the murky world of economic forecasting, predicting uncertainty is about as safe as it gets. How can anyone disagree with you? 

In its forecasts, the OBR assumed that the UK would be staying in the EU, because that's what Parliament told it to do, and it did not calculate what would happen in other scenarios. 

And the passage that the chancellor quoted didn't even say that there would be uncertainty it said there could be, which is hedging your bets to an extraordinary extent.

After that he says it "could have negative implications" and "might" lead to volatility, which is hedging his bets again.

If the OBR were trying to come out in favour of staying in the EU I would expect it to do a better job than this. 

Is the migration crisis bringing Turkey's membership of the EU closer?

By Ben Wright, BBC News, Brussels

Reality Check

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In return for doing a deal with the European Union accepting migrants back from Greece, Turkey has asked for visa-free access to the Schengen Area from June, doubling of the €3bn (£2.4bn) of EU emergency funding already agreed and new talks on its application to join the EU.

But that application is making very slow progress. Turkey applied to join what was then the European Economic Community in 1987. It then waited 10 years to be declared "eligible" for accession talks, which finally started in October 2005. 

A country has to adopt and enforce all the current EU rules before it can be admitted to the bloc, and in 10 years Turkey only managed to adopt a tiny proportion of them, in the area of science and research. 

The European Commission has recently expressed concerns about Turkey's human rights record and limits to freedom of expression. Furthermore, Cyprus will not agree to open further negotiations on Turkey's EU membership bid until Ankara recognises the Cypriot government as the legitimate government of the whole island. Turkey is the only country in the world that recognises the northern, Turkish part as a separate state.

Many EU members are wary about Turkish membership of the EU and the government in Ankara is divided on the issue too. The European Commission has said no new country will join the EU within the next five years and at the moment Turkish membership seems a long way off.

Read more of Ben's analysis here.

Are there 2,500 new regulations every year from the EU?

By Tamara Kovacevic

Reality Check


Thousands of European Union regulations and other laws have been adopted over the years to set out the rules of the single market. 

In the 1980s and 1990s the number of EU regulations was high. In 1983 alone, the number exceeded 14,500

In recent years, the number has gone down considerably. In 2015 the EU adopted 839 new regulations and 430 amending regulations: a total of 1,269, not 2,500.

Regulations are EU laws that take effect without any need for additional national legislation. 

Some of the regulations have no impact on the UK businesses, as they have nothing to do with it. For example, the regulations governing the production of olive oil and the growing of tobacco have little impact on UK farmers.

The EU also agrees a number of directives every year. Directives are EU laws that give “direction” or “goals” that all EU countries must achieve through their national parliaments. In 2015, the EU adopted 10 new and 26 amending directives.

How much does it cost?

So, what is the balance of cost and benefits that those EU rules have in the UK? And would their cost be eliminated if the UK left the EU?

In 2015, Open Europe, a think-tank calling for a reform of the EU, published a study that looked into 100 EU laws that are considered most burdensome to the UK economy as a whole. It concluded that they cost the UK economy £33.3bn a year, or £640 million a week.

The study was based on the government’s impact assessments, which look into cost and benefit of every new EU law to the UK economy. The government says the benefits of those 100 rules exceeded the costs, leaving the UK economy better off by £25.3bn year or £487 million a week. 

Open Europe acknowledges there is a benefit as well as cost to those rules, but argues that 95% of the benefits envisaged by the government had failed to materialise. For example, the think-tank said there were no benefits from the EU’s climate targets because a global deal to reduce carbon emissions had not been agreed yet.

Crucially, however, Open Europe pointed out that leaving the EU would cut some of the costs but would not eliminate them, because “the UK would still need to ensure that it came into line with European rules on trade for all commercial transactions with EU member countries”.

Are young people more likely to be pro-EU but less likely to vote?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Speakers at the launch of Greens for a Better Europe this morning talked a lot about how the EU Referendum would be a good opportunity to get more people on the electoral roll.

Caroline Lucas MP said: "Young people are more likely to be pro-EU but are also less likely to vote."

To check whether this is true you have to look at opinion polls, which we are a bit suspicious about, especially when it's something we haven't had a vote on for a long time.

Nonetheless, in the 18 polls that have been conducted since the beginning of February, the average score has been 52 to 48 in favour of staying in the EU, but among 18 to 24 year olds it has been 75 to 25 in favour, which is a pretty wide margin.

Testing the second part of the claim is also reliant on polls. This piece of work from Ipsos Mori gives estimates of how particular age-groups voted in the General Election, based on all of its polling throughout the campaign.

It estimates that people are more likely to vote the older they get, with those aged between 18 and 24 having a turnout of 43%, while those aged over 65 have a 78% turnout.

Of course, general election turnouts may not be a good guide to referendum turnouts. In the Scottish independence referendum there was a turnout of 84.6%.

Does the EU add £400 to UK food bills?

By Peter Barnes

Reality Check


Also in his speech today Boris Johnson claimed that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) adds £400 a year to the cost of food for every household.

This figure comes from a report published by the TaxPayers’Alliance in 2009 which looked at the UK’s share of the CAP budget as well as the effect on food prices. It says that each of those factors accounts for about half of the overall £400 figure.

The budget for the CAP then, quoted by the report, was €52 billion (about £42bn).

On food prices, the report refers to a letter sent by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling to other EU ministers in 2008 which said that the elements of the CAP that are designed to keep food prices above world market levels cost EU consumers €43 billion a year (about £34bn).

Put together, with a few other smaller factors, the report estimated the total cost to the UK at £10.3bn or £398 per household.

Since 2009 the CAP has been reformed in ways which have probably reduced its effect on food prices but it’s very difficult to come up with a precise figure. And the CAP budget has risen a bit – it will be €55.4bn in 2016.

But the bigger question is how much of this money would be saved if Britain left the EU. That would depend on what system of farm subsidies we set up and whether we continued to impose tariffs on cheaper imports from the rest of the world.

Would leaving the EU be a ‘disaster for UK science’?

Reality Check

Earlier this week, some of Britain's leading scientists - including Professor Stephen Hawking - called for a vote to remain in the European Union at the coming referendum.  

They said leaving the EU would be a "disaster for UK science".  

But, as the BBC’s science editor David Shukman reports, their views are not held by everyone in the scientific community.

What are the details of Canada's deal with the EU?

By Jack Evans

Reality Check


The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a free trade bilateral agreement between Canada and the European Union. The agreement eliminates 98% of tariffs between the two countries.

It is set to come into force this year. The process started with an impact assessment in 2008, reaching a breakthrough deal in October 2013. It is expected to be signed this year and come into force in 2017. 

Under a similar timetable we wouldn’t be implementing a free trade deal until 2025.

The government says the disadvantages of a Canada-style agreement would be:

  • Canada has only partial access to the EU Single Market, including for financial services
  • Quotas remain in place for key agricultural exports. For the UK this could mean, for example, a 12% tariff on a large share of the UK’s beef exports to the EU
  • Canadian manufacturers, such as carmakers, must comply with Rules of Origin, requiring that a proportion of the product is made in Canada in order to qualify for preferential tariffs on trade with the EU. This means extra bureaucratic costs
  • Firms that export to the EU have to comply with EU product standards and technical requirements without any say in setting them.

On the other hand, if the UK were to try to pursue this sort of deal, it would be tailored to the major export/import markets between the UK and the EU. For example, financial services, as a huge part of the UK economy, would presumably be very high on the UK's list of priorities during the negotiations.

Is the BBC funded by the European Union?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


We get lots of comments on the @BBCRealityCheck feed about the BBC being funded by the European Union, so here are the facts.

BBC public service news programmes are not allowed to take any external funding, including from the EU.

World Service is also now funded by the licence fee, although the UK government has agreed to pay for some new services.

There are three areas that do not influence BBC editorial policy that benefit from EU money

BBC Media Action

BBC Media Action is independent from the BBC - it is an international development charity set up by the BBC. In 2014-15 it received 5% of its funding from the EU, which was £2.3m. Its biggest donor was the UK's Department for International Development. 

Research and Development

The BBC applies for grants to help fund its research into broadcasting technology that has contributed to developments such as Freeview and DAB digital radio. Last year it received a grant of €607,953 (£472,197).

Independent Production Companies

Some production companies (not in-house ones) apply for grants that may be part-funded by the EU, which provide incentives to make programmes in particular regions of the UK. This is particularly the case for drama productions - news, current affairs and factual programmes do not use such incentives. In 2014-15, less than 2% of independently-produced programmes on the BBC used such incentives, which accounted for an average of 6% of their programme budgets.

Checking Boris Johnson's speech

By Reality Check team

Reality Check


Let's run through a few of the statement's in Boris Johnson's speech this morning.

  • Only 4% of officials in the EU Commission are British.

He's right - of a total of 32,966 staff currently working for the Commission, 1,164 or 3.5% are UK nationals

  • Youth unemployment is running at 22% on average in the eurozone

Yes that's right - the most recent figures from Eurostat suggest that youth unemployment in the countries that use the euro was 22.0%. It was 19.7% in the wider EU.

  • Claims we've checked before

Children under the age of eight are not banned from blowing up balloons in the EU. 

The EU does limit the power of vacuum cleaners as part of plans to promote energy efficiency.

The EU limits the length of lorries, but is now in the process of slowly amending the regulations to improve safety.

Does the UK hand over £380m a week to the EU?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


On the Today Programme this morning, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "We hand over something like £380m a week to the European Union. Most of that goes to projects in other countries."

At the weekend, Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said it was £350m a week.

The Treasury gives a figure of £18.777bn for the UK's gross contribution in 2014, the most recent year published, which is £361m a week.

But remember that's the gross figure, which is not handed over to the EU - we deduct the rebate first, so in this case we'd hand over £276m a week. 

Is most of that spent on projects in other countries? Well, £88m a week is paid back to the UK in the form of payments to support things like agriculture and regional development, leaving a net payment of £188m a week. 

Out of that, £26m a week goes directly to private sector organisations in the UK such as universities to fund research, leaving £162m a week going to run EU institutions and projects in other countries, which is not most of the money.


Mr Duncan Smith continued: "Now, £300m a week [sic] we will bring back to the UK - that's the equivalent of building a hospital a week."

How much does it cost to build a hospital? Well obviously it depends how big a hospital it is.

But looking at some recent examples, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham cost £545m, the Royal Liverpool was £430m, while Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick will cost £340m to build (although there are private finance costs on top of that over 30 years).

It's that three million jobs claim again!

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Prime Minister David Cameron has been at the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port talking about the impact the European Union has on UK jobs.

So it was no surprise to hear him repeat the old three million jobs claim.

We've heard Liberal Democrats in the coalition government and members of the previous Labour government say that three million UK jobs are linked to EU membership.

But Mr Cameron went a step further, saying they were "dependent" on EU trade, which is pushing it.

Is he suggesting that all those jobs would cease to exist if we were to stop trading with the EU (although nobody is suggesting that would happen if we left the EU)?

Also, as we have mentioned before, the methodology is a bit suspect. The Treasury worked out what proportion of the country's total economic output is made up of exports to the EU. Then it calculated that proportion of the UK labour force. And that's the answer!  

Did the UK lose parliamentary sovereignty in 1972?

By Clive Coleman

Reality Check

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According to the London Mayor Boris Johnson: "You cannot express the sovereignty of Parliament and accept the 1972 European Communities Act. There’s no way of doing both at the same time."

He bases that on his interpretation of the view of government lawyers. So, did the UK lose parliamentary sovereignty – the constitutional principle that makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK – when it enacted the European Communities Act in 1972?  

Answer: No.  

The 1972 Act gave direct effect to EU law and meant that if there was a conflict between an act of the British Parliament and EU law, Parliament lost out and EU law prevailed. That meant Parliament was giving up part of its sovereignty. But it remains sovereign because it can repeal the 1972 Act, just as it can repeal any other act it has passed.  

Read more from Clive with doggy metaphors.

Will the UK pay £500 million to Turkey?

By Tamara Kovacevic

Reality Check


We don’t know yet.

The UK is already committed to paying £250m over the next two years, as part of the EU-Turkey deal signed in November 2015, under which the EU is giving Turkey €3bn in exchange for Turkey reducing the number of refugees crossing into the EU via Greece.

Of that €3bn, €1bn will be financed from the EU budget and the rest by contributions from the member states according to the size of their economies. Germany, which has the biggest economy, will pay the largest amount, €428m, followed by the UK’s €328m (£250m). 

Italy and Cyprus initially objected to the deal, which was eventually approved in late January 2016, paving the way for the first payment to Turkey on 4 March 2016.

At the EU-Turkey summit on 7 March 2016, Turkey asked for an additional €3bn over the next two years. The EU leaders did not agree to that, but promised to speed up the disbursement of the November deal as well as “decide on additional funding for the Refugee Facility for Syrians”. At the end of the summit, Angela Merkel said: “A further €3 billion will be needed at the request of Turkey. We said in principle that this was a welcome approach.”

So, additional EU funding for Syrian refugees in Turkey is on the cards. But until the leaders decide on the amount and on where the money will come from, we cannot know what the UK contribution will be. The EU leaders are expected to discuss this when they meet in Brussels for a summit on 17 and 18 March.

Do we get £1,200 back for every £120 we put into the EU?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


If you were listening to Prime Minister's Questions today, you would have heard Labour MP Julie Elliot asking: "Does the prime minister agree with me that it's very important that we make the positive case for remaining in the EU - that each of us gets £1,200 back for every £120 we put in?"

Is it true?

Well, the £1,200 is about what you get if you divide the CBI's figure of £3,000 per household per year by 2.4, which is the size of the average household

There has been a fair amount of criticism of the CBI figure. It was based on five research papers, which were among those that found the greatest benefits to EU membership. 

A report from the House of Commons Library warned that such calculations were based on making hefty assumptions and as such the conclusions "can appear influenced by the prior convictions of those conducting the analysis".

As for the £120 cost, that also comes from the CBI report. It's taken the figure for the UK's net contribution (that's subtracting the rebate and the value of direct payments made back to the UK to support things like agriculture and rural development) and divided that by the population. 

But it is based on the figures for 2011. If you do the same calculation with 2014 figures you get to £154.

UPDATE: The CBI has returned to its research since the 2013 publication I linked to above. It still concludes the figure is £3,000. 

Are women less interested in the EU debate?

By Peter Barnes

Reality Check


Energy minister Andrea Leadsom is one of several leading politicians involved in today’s launch of the Women for Britain group which is campaigning for a Leave vote in the EU referendum. This morning she said that women weren’t as engaged with the debate as men.

Polls suggest she’s right, although the difference is not massive. For example, in their most recent poll about the most important issues facing the country, Ipsos MORI found that 20% of people mentioned Europe or the European Union: the highest figure since 2003. Looking at the gender breakdown the figures were 24% for men and 17% for women. (Source: Ipsos MORI, 5-23 February. Sample size: 1,009)

Polls also suggest that more women than men are yet to make up their minds about how to vote. Since the beginning of February, taking an average of poll results, 21% of women – more than one in five – said they didn’t know how they’d vote In the referendum compared with 13% of men. (Sources: BMG, ComRes, ICM, Ipsos MORI, TNS, YouGov)

The Women IN campaign group has also been busy today. They’ve launched a video along with a warning that women’s rights which are protected by EU law would be at risk if the UK voted to Leave.

It should be remembered, though, that UK laws that have been enacted to fulfil EU directives would still be on the statute book after a Brexit. It would be up to future governments to decide if they wanted to repeal any of that legislation.

Also, some legislation in this area, such as the right to shared parental leave introduced by the coalition government, is unconnected to EU law.

Did the EU try to make Crossrail tunnels bigger?

By Lewis Goodall, BBC Newsnight

Reality Check


On the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Boris Johnson gave this example involving Crossrail, of how the EU has made his job as Mayor of London more difficult.

Such is the Stockholm syndrome capture of officials in this country that they decided to interpret the directive on the interoperability of trans-European networks in such a way as to insist that Crossrail tunnels had to be 50% bigger in order to accommodate German trains in the vanishingly unlikely eventuality of German trains needing to go down the Crossrail tunnel. That would have cost billions and we had to spend literally a year trying to fend off that demand.”

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But Transport for London has told BBC News that this is not true. 

Its spokesperson contradicted the Mayor, who is the chairman of the organisation, by saying:

The Crossrail programme was at an advanced stage when the directive was adopted by the UK. Crossrail construction commenced in 2009, tunnelling for Crossrail commenced in May 2012, with the final tunnel-boring machine concluding its journey in May 2015. The Department for Transport subsequently requested that Crossrail seek an exemption (derogation) from the Directive on Interoperability, which was successfully obtained in 2012. The administrative process to gain the derogation had no impact on the Crossrail construction programme.”

So TfL says the Mayor’s office didn’t have anything to do with it. The Department for Transport, far from seeking to impose this, asked for an opt out, which they received without difficulty. 

And the process didn’t affect the Crossrail tunnels at all because by the time the directive came into place the tunnels had almost been completed anyway.

Did EU membership slow UK economic growth?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Bank of England governor Mark Carney has been cross-examined by the Commons Treasury Select Committee this morning.

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP objected to some of his assertions: "Particularly this argument that EU membership reinforces the dynamism of the United Kingdom economy, when the growth rate of the economy is actually faster from 1948 to 1973 that it is from 1973 to 2012."

He's right - the UK economy grew at an average rate of more than 3% between 1948 and 1973 and only just over 2% from 1973 to 2012.


But Mr Carney was keen to add some context. "All major, advanced economies experienced more rapid post-World War Two growth than subsequent growth post the oil shock of 72-73."

"In terms of the relative performance of the UK economy you see two accelerations, first upon accession to the European Community and then in the early to mid '90s upon the formation of the single market."

He refers this conclusion to the work of economic historians such as Nick Crafts at Warwick University.

So the UK economy has been growing more slowly since 1973 than it did between 1948 and 1973, but it was boosted in the '70s and '90s compared with its peers.

Which figures for the UK contribution to EU Budget should we use?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


There was a great row on Sunday Politics yesterday between UKIP MP Douglas Carswell and presenter Andrew Neil about which figures we should use for the UK contribution to the EU Budget.

It seems like a good opportunity to explain some of the figures you may have heard.

Mr Carswell was using the top, blue line on the graph below, which is the gross contribution - the total amount we owe before any deductions.

He divided that, to get to a figure of about £350m a week.


Andrew Neil argued that if you were looking for a figure for how much we send every week to Brussels, you would have to subtract the rebate (the red line) because that is deducted before the money is sent to the EU.

Mr Carswell said that the rebate could be removed at any time so should not be included in these figures.

Another figure that is often quoted is the net contribution, which is what you get if you also deduct the payments made back to the UK to fund things like agriculture and regional development, which gives you the green line.

The net figure is just under £10bn a year, which is £190m a week.

How much do UK farmers get from the European Union?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


There was a bit of a howler on the Daily Politics today, when Stephen Bush from the New Statesman said: "The Common Agricultural Policy puts £200bn into the agriculture sector over the course of the next parliament."

After a hard stare from presenter Andrew Neil, he corrected himself to £20bn, a figure he had given earlier.

Is his corrected figure right? If you look at table 3f on page 18 of this government publication, you will see figures for EAGF and EAFRD (that's money paid directly to farmers and money received for rural development), which over the five years of the parliament are forecast to add up to £15.9bn.

How effective are UK border controls at Calais?

Reality Check

Tamara Kovacevic


Further to my earlier post, we’ve been trying to find out how effective the Le Touquet agreement has been at stopping the flow of irregular migrants to the UK.

There aren’t any figures available for the number of people refused entry to the UK at the Calais border point.

But the UK Government does publish the total number of those who are stopped at all immigration checks on the continental side of the Channel.

That includes the operation in Calais – and similar checkpoints in Dunkirk, at several French train stations, and in Belgium, at Brussels Gare du Midi train station.

Between 2005 – when the agreement came into force – and 2015, a total of 55,494 people were refused entry to the UK at those points, according to government statistics (Source: UK Government Immigration Statistics Release, updated on 3 March 2016).

It’s reasonable to assume that most of those people would have been stopped in France, but we can’t be sure as the statistics do not go to that level of detail.

Is the EU the world's biggest tariff-free trading area?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check

HM Government

An interesting point from Jon Moynihan who is on the board of Vote Leave and has been speaking at the British Chambers of Commerce conference today.

He says we need to stop referring to the EU as the world's biggest tariff-free trading area, because it is only that if you include the UK.

If the UK were to leave the EU, he says, then the economy of the US would be bigger than the EU.

There is agreement on the figures behind this point, with the graphic above appearing in yesterday's paper from the government on the alternatives to EU membership.

Would Brexit mean lots more refugees crossing the Channel?

By Tamara Kovacevic

Reality Check


French finance minister Emmanuel Macron told the FT today that, if the UK left the EU, “migrants will no longer be in Calais”.

Would Brexit mean that France would open its border with the UK and let thousands of migrants currently in Calais cross the Channel?

France and the UK are bound by the Le Touquet agreement, a deal they signed in 2003, which established the UK immigration checks on French territory. Le Touquet is not an EU agreement and, if the UK votes to leave the EU, the deal will not automatically be affected.

Under the agreement, passengers are checked before they embark on cross-Channel services. The checks have stopped irregular migrants from reaching the UK, but they have also led, in part, to the establishment of the “Jungle”, the migrant camp in Calais that French authorities are currently trying to dismantle.

The agreement can be terminated only by the UK or the French government, after giving six months notice.

Does the UK import or export more cars with the EU?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


It was suggested to a BMW board member on Radio 4's Today Programme that BMW would be trying to persuade the German government to do a free trade deal with the UK if it left the union, because it imports more BMWs to the UK than it exports from the UK.

BMW has confirmed the figures this morning. The company imported 157,000 cars (of all its badges) from the rest of the EU to the UK last year, and exported around 100,000 cars from the UK to the rest of the EU.

Of course, it's not just about what happens to whole cars. BMW also exported about 140,000 engines from the UK to the rest of the EU.

On a broader point, the chart from the ONS above confirms that the UK has been importing a considerably higher value of cars from the EU than it has been exporting. 

And overall, in 2015 the UK exported 1,277,881 cars according to the industry body the SMMT, of which 57.5% went to other EU countries.

Would UK exit from EU lead to more tariffs?

Reality Check

HM Government

The government paper on the options for the UK if it were to leave the EU contained this chart, laying out the levels of tariffs imposed by the EU on most-favoured nations (that's pretty much everyone who is in the World Trade Organisation but not the EU). It ranges from 0% for cotton to 42.1% for sugar. 

No figures were put on how much those extra tariffs would put on the price of products being imported into the UK, but this report from December 2015 from Stronger In Europe claimed that the UK would have to match the tariffs placed on UK products by the EU, which would raise the price of EU imports by £11bn.

It said that the UK would have to impose such tariffs or the EU would have no incentive to reach a trade deal.

Leave campaigners argue that any extra costs would be cancelled out by savings from not having to contribute to the EU budget.

The government's paper on alternatives to EU is published

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check

HM Government

The government has now published its paper on alternatives to EU membership.

It is set out in much the same way as the earlier Reality Check on the subject. It divides the options up into three possibilities: the Norway model, negotiated bilateral agreements (such as Switzerland) and the World Trade Organisation option.

It expresses particular concern about the capacity of bilateral agreements to give the UK's dominant service sector access to European markets.

The section on bilateral agreements looks at the examples of Switzerland, Turkey and Canada, concluding that none would be suitable for the UK and also casting doubt on whether other EU countries would be prepared to extend a deal such as Switzerland's to the UK, quoting the Council of the EU describing it in 2010 as "complex and unwieldy".

Unsurprisingly, the government paper concludes that none of the available options would be as favourable as staying in the EU.

What are the options available if the UK leaves the EU?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


The government is going to lay out some of the other options for the UK if it were to leave the EU. Leave campaigners say the UK would negotiate its own agreement and not follow any of these models.

1) Norway

Norway is a member of the European Economic Area, has access to the single market and follows EU legislation in areas such as the free movement of goods, services, people and money. 

It is not bound by EU laws governing things like agriculture and fisheries or monetary union, but it does have to make a financial contribution to the EU budget.

It does not get to vote on EU policies.

2) Switzerland

Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association.

Its access to the single market is governed by a series of agreements, which cover some but not all areas of trade.

It makes a financial contribution to the EU, which is smaller than Norway’s.

Switzerland does not have a general duty to apply EU laws but it does have to accept free movement and implement some EU regulations to enable trade.

But there may be trouble ahead with Switzerland's relationship with the EU, after a 2014 referendum supported placing limits on immigration.

3) World Trade Organisation

The WTO sets out rules for international trade that apply to all members, so this is what the UK would have, after a period of transition, if no agreements were made following an EU exit.

It would mean that the UK would not have to accept free movement or contribute to the EU budget, but goods exported to EU countries would still have to meet EU standards.

There would be some tariffs in place on trade with the EU and trade in services would be restricted.

What trade benefits could the UK keep if it left the EU?

Andrew Walker

World Service economics correspondent


The European Union’s negotiated some good trading deals that the UK benefits from as a member of the EU. If the UK were to leave, could it take those deals with them?

Lord Lawson, the former chancellor and chair of Vote Leave, thinks so: he says the deals were made on behalf of member states, so member states can benefit from them whether or not they are part of the EU.

Peter Mandelson, a former EU trade commissioner, takes a different view. He says that during the negotiating process the EU acts on behalf of member states, but once they are finalised they “become EU agreements, they do not become British, Spanish or Italian agreements”.

So who’s right? It depends who you’re dealing with.

For business conducted under World Trade Organisation rules, Lord Lawson is largely right. The UK is a member in its own right, and would continue to be one outside the EU. It would be entitled to the same access to other countries’ markets as other WTO members, although there might have to be a negotiation on the terms of others’ access to the UK.

For agreements with other countries that give the EU improved access – such as the deals between the EU and Korea, or between the EU and Canada – all the experts we consulted said the UK would have to re-negotiate with the countries concerned.

However, just how hard the UK would have to fight to maintain the benefits obtained through the EU-negotiated deals is something we can’t predict.

Read more

More on UK trade with the EU

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Michael Gove is not the only one claiming that UK trade with the EU has fallen.

The wealthy investor and Leave campaigner Jim Mellon told Radio 4's Today programme last Tuesday: "Our trade with Europe is now about 43% of our exports. At the time we joined in the seventies it was about 75% with a lesser number of countries."

I really can't find any way of reaching that 75% figure. In 1972, even our trade with the 28 countries that now make up the EU only amounted to 42% of UK exports, according to figures taken from the UN Comtrade database.

Interestingly, the peak in the importance of EU trade to the UK appears to have been in 1992, the year when the Maastricht Treaty was signed, leading to the creation of the European Union.

Has the proportion of UK trade with the EU fallen?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Last week, Michael Gove said: "Our share of trade with the European Union has actually diminished during the time that we've been in the EU." (It's in this interview - about 4mins 30secs in when he's talking about Britain's mojo.)

UK trade figures for 1972 are jolly hard to get hold of - I've had to visit libraries and everything - but with the help of economic historians at the LSE, I can say that the proportion of our trade with the EU has actually increased since 1972, the year before the UK joined.

That is the case looking on the UN Comtrade database at either trade with the 15 countries that were in the EU from 1995, or indeed the 28 countries that are currently members. 

Has the EU reduced pollution in the UK?

By Peter Barnes

Reality Check


Scotland’s First Minister has argued that co-ordinated action within the EU had been responsible for cutting emissions of dangerous pollutants.    

In her speech earlier, Nicola Sturgeon said: “European decisions helped us to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by almost nine tenths in the last four decades. Nitrogen oxide levels have decreased by two thirds in Scotland since 1990… Joint action in this area has almost certainly, without a word of exaggeration, saved tens of thousands of lives.”

It’s true that emissions have fallen dramatically. Sulphur dioxide emissions across the UK are down by 95% since 1970 (Source: Defra). And in Scotland, emissions of nitrogen oxides had fallen to 33% of their 1990 level by 2013 (Source: National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory).

It’s also true that the European Union has been at the forefront of setting international targets to lower emissions through a series of measures including the National Emissions Ceiling Directive which was agreed in 2001.

It could be argued that emissions would have fallen anyway without the intervention of the EU. Many of the cuts have been made possible by technology change and there is a UN Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) which covers EU and non-EU states.

But it’s the EU that has set the legal framework for the UK’s emission targets, and the EU also sets environmental standards for goods which have been used to drive emissions down.

Would it take 10 years to leave the EU?

By Tamara Kovacevic

Reality Check

There is no precedent for a country leaving the EU.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty sets out the process: negotiations would last two years and after that the UK would cease to be a member of the EU, unless the other 27 states unanimously decided to extend the negotiations.

When Greenland voted to withdraw from the European Community – the organisation that preceded the EU – in 1982 (after gaining a high level of internal autonomy from Denmark in 1979) a deal was reached three years later, after difficult and protracted negotiations, mainly over fisheries.

A deal for the UK is likely to be more complicated and the negotiations lengthier, especially if the UK wanted to retain full access to the Single Market.

The other 27 EU countries would be in charge of the timetable and a new deal for the UK would have to be approved by the European Parliament and the remaining 27 EU countries by Qualified Majority Voting.

The UK would remain a member of the EU, under the current terms, for as long as the negotiations are ongoing.

Is a second EU referendum plausible?

By Ben Wright, Political correspondent

Reality Check

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In politics anything is possible. And it's certain a UK vote to leave would prompt despair in many EU capitals. But for several reasons it seems a second deal and vote would be very unlikely.

First, Number 10 has said the idea is "for the birds". The government has said a vote to leave would be acted upon right away. David Cameron would go to Brussels and invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that begins a member state's exit from the EU. Leave campaigners say the Prime Minister would not have to do that immediately but that is the government's stated position.

Second, the referendum question would not give David Cameron a mandate to go back to the negotiating table. The choice on the ballot paper is to remain in the EU or leave.

Third, since the UK's renegotiation was agreed in Brussels, key EU figures have ruled out further concessions to the UK. The deal agreed by EU leaders last week explicitly says it is not the basis for further talks if the UK votes to leave:

Having another go

EU member states have repeated referendums in the past; Denmark on the Maastricht Treaty and Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty.

After Denmark first rejected the Treaty, concessions were made, including an opt-out from the euro. Proof, leave campaigners say, that a better deal can be won for the UK.

But there is a difference. Ireland and Denmark's referendums were repeated to enable the EU project to advance. The UK is voting to leave the club. This would undoubtedly cause some anguish in the EU but it would not stop the project moving forward.

Read more of Ben's analysis.

Should we be using NI numbers to measure immigration?

By Beth Sagar-Fenton

Reality Check


An email arrives from UKIP. Nigel Farage is wondering why, as Jonathan Portes has been pointing out today, gross migration  to the UK from the EU was 260,000 in the year to September, but during the same period, 650,000 EU nationals registered for National Insurance numbers.

"They are pulling the wool over our eyes," Mr Farage says.  

"NiNos (National Insurance numbers) are a simple and clear reflection of the real numbers of people in this country, as without them you can neither legally work, nor claim benefits."

There is no question that the immigration figures, which are based on a survey taken at ports and airports, are imprecise, with the ONS 95% confident that the net migration figure is within plus or minus 37,000 of the true figure.

But using National Insurance numbers also presents problems. In particular, everyone who wants to work in the UK must have a National Insurance number, even if they're only working in the country for a few weeks, whereas the long-term migration figures only count people planning to stay for a year or more.

Also, the migration stats include many people who are not planning to work or claim benefits, such as children or non-working partners. People applying for a National Insurance number could have arrived at any time, not necessarily in the year or quarter in question.

So the difference between the two figures is striking, but National Insurance numbers are not a better figure to use than the migration figures.

Annual EU and non-EU net migration both well above 100,000

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


The 2010 Conservative manifesto said the party would take steps to cut net migration to "tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands".

The 2015 manifesto said the party would keep that ambition.

The government can place controls on immigration from outside the EU but not inside it.

This morning's figures from the ONS estimate that annual net migration from other EU countries and from outside the EU are both considerably above 100,000.

Is the PM's deal legally binding?

By Clive Coleman, BBC legal affairs correspondent

Reality Check

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Is Michael Gove correct that the prime minister's renegotiation deal is not legally binding? Lawyers will argue it both ways.

The deal is not a formally ratified treaty, but would still be regarded by many as legally binding in international law.

The Vienna Convention on the law of treaties makes it clear that states can express their consent to an international agreement in a variety of ways - signature, acceptance or approval.

What is important is the substance of the agreement and not the label "treaty". As Mr Gove acknowledges, this is a "deal between 28 nations all of whom believe it". In other words all of whom intend to be bound by it.

Theoretically possible

The more significant question is, perhaps, what is the value and status of the deal as a matter of EU law?

It is intended to be fully compatible with the existing EU treaties - all of the member states agree on that. However it is not an amendment to the existing treaties and remains subject to the interpretation of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

That may make it sound weak and vulnerable to legal challenge. However, all measures of EU law under the existing treaties are subject to interpretation by the ECJ.

Should any state subsequently raise the issue of the relationship between the deal and the existing EU treaties, that would be a matter for the ECJ to rule upon.

So, while some legal experts acknowledge that a legal challenge is theoretically possible, the ECJ would give substantial weight to the fact that all 28 member states have agreed both the deal and that it is compatible with the existing treaties. That makes the chances of a successful legal challenge slim.

How far apart are Michael Gove and Number 10?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check

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How far apart are the positions of Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Number 10, represented by Attorney General Jeremy Wright, on the legal status of David Cameron's EU agreement?

They both agree it to be an international law declaration. It seems to me that the difference is what we mean by "legally binding".

Mr Gove is right that it’s not strictly speaking legally binding, but the attorney general is right that the European Court of Justice would struggle to avoid taking into account what the European Council had agreed. 

So the details of the deal can be challenged by the Court, in common with anything else done under EU law. 

But as my colleague, legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman says, the chances of a successful legal challenge are slim.

Treaty change or new laws?

Reality Check

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A bit of background from the Reality Check team on the argument about whether the European Court of Justice is legally bound by the EU agreement with the UK.

First of all, the court can't rule of its own accord - it can only do so if there is a challenge by a third party.

Secondly, the process for getting different bits of the agreement through will vary. Some changes will be quicker, some will take longer. 

For example, to exempt the UK from “ever closer union”, a treaty change will be required. EU Treaty changes take a very long time. Last time it took almost 10 years.

On the other hand, to change the legislation on child benefit will take a lot less time because an ordinary legislative procedure will be needed. In other words, a new regulation or a new directive will be agreed which will be part of the EU law.

Reality Check: More than 3 million jobs linked to EU membership?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Both the coalition government and the previous Labour government used the figure that more than three million UK jobs are linked to EU membership.

When Danny Alexander, pictured above, was at the Treasury in 2014 he said the figure was 3.3 million.

Two things to say about this figure: first of all, clearly not all of these jobs are dependent on the UK remaining part of the EU - nobody is suggesting that all exports to other EU countries would immediately stop if the UK left.

Secondly, the methodology is a bit suspect. The Treasury worked out what proportion of the country's total economic output is made up of exports to the EU. Then it calculated that proportion of the UK labour force. And that's the answer!  

Reality Check: Business arguments on EU referendum

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Following the business leaders' letter in the Times, the Reality Check team has been looking at some of the business claims about EU membership.

One we've heard a lot, including from Dr Pete Chadha, who was on Daily Politics speaking on the Leave side today, is that we import more from other EU countries than we export to them, so they would be very keen to sign trade deals post-Brexit. 

And he's right in cash terms. In 2014 we exported £227bn worth of goods and services to other EU countries, and imported £288bn from them.

Of course, as a share of total exports, it looks much less important to other member states - it's about 45% of our exports, but less than 10% of theirs.


Is it impossible to redesign the windows on lorries?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


In the last of Boris Johnson's objections to EU rules in the Telegraph, he says: "I discovered, in 2013, that there was nothing we could do to bring in better-designed cab windows for trucks, to stop cyclists being crushed. It had to be done at a European level, and the French were opposed."

The Mayor of London is right that the overall length of lorries is governed by EU regulations, the result of which was to make manufacturers design cabs as small and flat-fronted as possible in order to maximise the amount of storage space.

Thanks to campaigning by many people including Mr Johnson, a review of the directive was adopted in April 2014 by the European Parliament that just limits the storage space so that cabs can be made more aerodynamic and cyclist-friendly.

At the time, Mr Johnson said he was worried the UK government would oppose the plans, although it has now approved them.

But the changes are not going to happen quickly. The new rules will be phased in from 2018. After that, it will take ages for all the lorries on the roads to be replaced by new ones. 

Are there EU limits on the power of vacuum cleaners?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Boris Johnson's third "ludicrous" rule in his Daily Telegraph article is "the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners".

Since 1 September 2014, there has been a ban on vacuum cleaners rated above 1,600 watts as part of plans to promote energy efficiency.

That limit is expected to be cut to 900 watts in 2017.

There has been much discussion among consumer groups and manufacturers about whether lower wattage will necessarily lead to reduced performance.

Which? warned at the time that five of its seven "best buys" would fail to meet the new standards.

But the German official testing agency Stiftung Warentest said it had found 38 models of cleaner that would work effectively within the new limits.  

James Dyson wanted the limit to be even lower, at 700 watts, and objected strongly to the way the EU's tests were carried out.

Can under-8s blow up balloons?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


Next up on the list of Boris Johnson's EU bugbears from his Daily telegraph column today: "Children under eight cannot blow up balloons."

There were a number of headlines about this in October 2011, leading the European Commission to put out a press release saying in shouty capitals: "EU DOES NOT ban children from blowing up balloons".

The rules require companies making latex (but not foil) balloons to carry a message saying: "Warning! Children under eight years can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Adult supervision required. Keep uninflated balloons from children. Discard broken balloons at once."

So it's a compulsory warning rather than a ban.

Can you recycle teabags?

By Anthony Reuben

Reality Check


The Reality Check team has been looking at some of the things that Boris Johnson said upset him about EU rules in this morning's Telegraph.

First up: "You can't recycle a teabag".

Now, we're assuming he means you can't compost a teabag, because recycling them sounds like a really bad idea.

Under EU law, local authorities may indeed ban the composting of tea bags, and any other sort of food waste, if they're worried about the spreading of certain diseases. 

Cardiff Council did so in 2005 to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease - the council was worried that food waste might have been in contact with infected meat.

But the point is, councils are not forced to ban the composting of tea bags - they are allowed to. 

Reality Check returns for EU Referendum


Reality Check has returned for the EU Referendum.

On this page you will find all the checks the team does ahead of the big day.

Do get in touch if there's something you think needs checking.