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The ITV EU referendum debate, fact-checked

Credit: ITV

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts", said fact-checking organisation Full Fact of ITV's EU referendum debate.

"Thursday's panel took that message to heart, challenging one another over the basic factual building blocks of the opposing cases".

Debating fiercely for the Remain campaign were SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, shadow business secretary Angela Eagle and Energy and Climate Change secretary Amber Rudd.

Meanwhile, former London Mayor Boris Johnson, former minister Andrea Leadsom and Labour MP Gisela Stuart urged the public to "take back control" and vote in favour of Brexit.

Boris Johnson came under fierce attack by his opponents Credit: ITV
Nicola Sturgeon argued strongly in favour of Remain Credit: ITV

Analysis of Remain and Leave's claims

The panel repeatedly clashed over whether the UK really sends £350 million to the EU every week. This claim, prominent in the Vote Leave campaign, was branded a “giant whopper” by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Junior minister Andrea Leadsom defended the figure, saying that it represents the fee before money comes back in a (tenuous) rebate, and in EU spending that isn’t under our control.

That’s not correct. The rebate is a discount, not a refund - about £100 million a week of this figure never actually leaves the country. And the rebate is not temporary. It can't be changed in future without the UK’s agreement.

So our payments were more like £250 million a week in 2015.

It’s fair to say that the £80 million a week or so of that spent in the UK isn’t under our control, though.

And that still leaves a considerable amount that the UK would save in membership payments - seven or eight billion pounds a year.

But that doesn’t mean we could lavish money on the NHS. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, there is “virtual unanimity” among economists that leaving would come at an economic cost, which in turn would affect the public finances - to the tune of £20 to £40 billion a year, in its estimate. That’s more than enough to wipe out the membership fee savings.

Not every apparent clash of the facts has such a clear conclusion. Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle contradicted Ms Leadsom on the proportion of our laws that come from the EU - 13%, she said, not 60%.

Neither is right and neither wrong - these are opposite ends of a spectrum of estimates, but none are particularly meaningful. Because laws vary so much in type and importance, no figure is definitive. It’s more helpful to look at which areas the EU has most control over.

Similarly, when Vote Leave’s Boris Johnson and energy minister Amber Rudd contradicted one another over the UK being outvoted in the EU, both were actually right. The UK is both the most outvoted country at the Council of Ministers, and a ‘winner’ 95% of the time - both statements are simultaneously true.

And what were voters to make of virtually every speaker saying of Britain’s borders that we definitively do, or definitively don’t, have control over them as EU members? Remain campaigners are referring to the fact that the UK government can check passports at its borders and refuse entry to people without any valid identity documents, including EU nationals. So in that sense, we do control our borders.

This isn’t the same as saying the UK can refuse anyone from other EU countries, as Leave campaigners point out. For instance, previous criminal convictions aren’t on their own a valid reason to keep someone out.

The person’s actions must be a “genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society”. And the UK can’t directly control levels of immigration from other EU countries. So, in that sense, we don’t control our borders.

– CJ McKinney, Full Fact

Fact check round-up: Vote leave claims

Fact check round-up: Vote remain claims

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