Do they really want our opinion?

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Jonathan Russell, Partner at UK200Group Firm ReesRussell, takes a look at the government's document on Brexit and tries to get to the bottom of some of the facts given.

The press of late has been full of issues regarding the openness or otherwise of our politicians and the very low level of trust we the voting public now have in them. Obviously the local elections are looming but so too is the EU Referendum.

Now I am a great supporter of democracy and free speech but I am somewhat perplexed over the conduct of our government as regards the Referendum. In normal day to day governance of the country we the electorate at each election consider the positions of the various candidates in our constituencies and their respective party offerings nationally and we vote for whoever we think best fits our view. We then end up with a government that takes decisions on our behalf based upon their overall mandate and what they think is best for the country.

However, I think the government’s role should be different when it comes to a referendum. Essentially by calling a referendum the government are asking us the voters to make the decision for them. If we the voters are to make a decision it is only fair and reasonable that we should be given the facts for all sides of the argument and any possible outcomes and it is on the basis of that information that we cast our vote.

It would appear however, that the government do not hold the same view as me and believe they should merely tell us how they would like us to vote and only offer information is a way that supports their view. I ask the question of government “if you want us to make the decision why not give us the full unbiased facts so we can make an informed decision?” If you, the government, merely want us to ratify what you want why ask us in the first place?

The UK200Group is campaigning for greater clarity and is holding a debate on 11th May which you can watch on-line and ask questions in advance by registering at

The BBC has tried to take an in-depth look at the points made the government’s own leaflet. Below are a few examples:

The claim: Over three million UK jobs are linked to exports to the EU

The methodology is 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

The claim: EU co-operation makes it easier to keep criminals and terrorists out of the UK.

Tricky - there are arguments on both sides, but a former head of MI6 says the co-operation would continue even if the UK left the EU. Many of the agreements between UK and other European countries has nothing to do with membership of the EU only the European Arrest warrant is.

The claim: EU reforms in the 1990s resulted in a drop in fares of over 40% for lower cost flights within Europe as well as opening up new routes across the continent.

It's true that the fares have dropped, but other parts of the world also have low-cost airlines, so it's hard to conclude it wouldn't have happened without EU reforms. However, the boss of Easyjet has been pretty vocal in her view that leaving the EU would be very bad news for low-cost carriers but this might be more to do with currency changes.

The claim: From next year, mobile phone roaming charges will be abolished across the EU, saving UK customers up to 38p per minute on calls.

It is reasonable to allow the EU to take credit for the abolition of roaming charges next year, although we can't necessarily say that if the UK left the EU there couldn't still be a deal to abolish them.

The claim: Less than 8% of EU exports come to the UK while 44% of UK exports go to the EU.

That's true, but is really playing with presentation. In cash terms, the UK in 2014 exported £227 billion worth of goods and services to other EU countries and imported £288 billion from them, which makes the UK look like a much more important customer for the rest of the EU.

The claim: We will not join the euro

This is true - the UK secured an opt-out, which is written into EU law. The UK cannot be forced to adopt the single currency.

The claim: EU membership also gives UK citizens travelling in other European countries the right to access free or cheaper public healthcare.

True, but some forms of healthcare such as emergency care while on holiday could be secured through reciprocal agreements post-Brexit. But equally those coming from the EU to UK will no longer have a right to free treatment so even more reason for reciprocity to be negotiated.
The claim: No other country has managed to secure significant access to the single market without having to follow EU rules over which they have no real say, pay into the EU and accept EU citizens living and working in their country.

This is true of the countries that have full access to the single market and are not members of the EU - Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. All of them pay into the EU, although less than the full members, and accept exactly the same rules on the movement of people as the rest of the EU. But this should be read in conjunction with the comments above regarding trade. Also until Maastricht trade was governed separately by The European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) at which point it was merged into the EU agreements.

The claim: In future, new EU migrants will not have full access to certain benefits until they have worked here for up to four years

This was a part of the EU-UK deal agreed in February 2016, which will be implemented if the UK votes to stay in the EU and only applies to in work benefits. But if there is Brexit then the restrictions will be greater for both in and out of work benefits.

For more information on the BBC’s Reality Check campaign please visit

Equally there are many areas where the government leaflet is silent such as the impact or the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and The European Court of Justice (ECJ). There is significant confusion over these two bodies and the government has already indicated it would like to withdraw from the ECHR which is separate from the EU but lawyers suggest that being signed up to the ECHR is an obligation of all EU members. The ECJ is the court that deals with the EU legislation.

So my question to government remains – You called a referendum, which means you want us the voters to make the decision, so why are you finding it so hard to give us all the information so we can make an informed decision? Part of our current economic woes are a direct result of the uncertainty regarding the outcome of the referendum but you the government could reduce that uncertainty by saying what actions you would take if there was a leave vote. Not just saying it will be difficult and article 50 sets out the process.

Tags: UK200

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