Brexit myths – and truths

Brexiters have constantly weaponised lies, half-truths, doctored statistics and the like to make (and win) the case for leaving the EU.  Here, we counter a number of the most overused Brexit myths – a useful resource for anyone wanting to respond to the UK Government’s propaganda. 

Myth 1:                       

This is the EU’s fault. It has punished the UK for daring to leave (in event of either no deal or a poor deal).

The Truth:                   

It was the UK Government’s choice to set a deadline of end 2020 for reaching a deal on the future relationship with the EU.  It compounded that by refusing to ask for an extension, despite ample opportunity to do so, and even when clear that the economy would already be severely damaged by the pandemic.

Although it was the UK’s decision to leave the EU and make itself a third party, the Government has seemed indignant that the EU should treat it as such. It is quite natural that the EU should now look after the interests of its own member states ahead of the interests of the UK.   

From the EU’s perspective, it is dealing with a government that has shown it is willing to break an agreement it signed only last year and thereby break international law; that – through its pursuit of a Hard Brexit – is threatening peace in Ireland; and that has contained ministers and representatives who have publicly spoken of their wish to see the EU destroyed. They have no basis for trusting the UK Government.

Myth 2: 

The UK Government couldn’t have asked for an extension to the transition period because it was a legal requirement that it had to end on 31 December 2020

The Truth:

It was only a legal requirement because the Government, using its majority in Parliament, passed a law to make it so. Had it wished to request an extension, it could have changed the law.  

Myth 3:

Covid is likely to have a far more significant effect on the economy than Brexit.

The Truth: 

The Government is clearly hoping to conceal the effects of Brexit behind the effects of the pandemic.  Although the Chancellor has tried hard to give the impression that Covid will have a more significant impact, that’s very unlikely to be true.  Both the Governor of the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility have forecast that the long term effects of Brexit, even in the event of a thin deal, will be greater than those of Covid-19.  And yet the Chancellor, remarkably, did not even mention Brexit in his recent statement on the comprehensive spending review. 

Myth 4:

All that counts in a democracy is that we honour the votes of the 17.4m

The Truth:

The idea that democracy stops once you’ve cast your ballot, or that only the winners count, is dangerous. Democracy is about constant debate and scrutiny. It’s about having governments that accept accountability, and institutions – parliament, the media, the courts – who keep those leaders in check. It’s about serving all citizens, including minorities, and not just those who voted for the winning side. It’s about not being allowed, if you are in power, to get away with lying. The alternative is an elective dictatorship.

Myth 5:

No Deal is a legitimate way to honour the votes of those who voted for Brexit 

The Truth:

There is no justification for No Deal. From the start, Vote Leave  campaign leaders assured us that a deal would be easy.  No Deal means food and medicine shortages, chaos at our ports, further job losses, and possible civil unrest.   

And yet, for the third time in less than two years a UK government is entertaining No Deal as a serious option, causing millions of its citizens untold stress; British people are asking themselves whether they need to stockpile food and medicine, and whether they will be safe. This should not be happening in peacetime in a prosperous democracy.  

Myth 6:

We’ve freed ourselves from unelected Brussels bureaucrats 

The Truth:

The UK was never subject to laws passed by unelected Brussels bureaucrats. When the UK was in the EU, British prime ministers and ministers – all of them elected MPs – played a leading role as members of the European Council in setting all policy direction and approving legislation. And all legislation was scrutinised and only passed if approved by directly elected MEPs.  

Myth 7:

This is about reclaiming our sovereignty and bringing decision-making closer to home.

The Truth:

Under the UK system, it is the Westminster Parliament (“the Queen in Parliament”) that is sovereign. And yet this government has done everything it can to neuter it: illegally trying to stop Parliament from sitting in 2019; ensuring it has no say in future trade negotiations with other countries; and, since coronavirus, obstructing rather than facilitating measures to enable MPs to work and vote remotely.

It has also, through its Internal Market Bill, launched an unprecedented power grab on the devolved administrations. And it is putting former MPs and MSPs, even ones who have just lost their seats in an election, into the unelected House of Lords that now has a record number of members.  What could be less democratic than that?

Myth 8:

The UK has regained its independence

The Truth:

The UK never lost its independence. Are we honestly to believe that Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, among others, were not prime ministers of an independent UK? Are France and Germany not sovereign, independent countries? And Latvia, Malta and Poland?

Myth 9:

No Deal is better than a bad deal. In any negotiation, you have to be able to walk away

The Truth:

In a business situation, this is true. But this is not a business situation. It’s a situation (for which it’s hard to find a parallel), in which the UK is dislocating itself substantially from an arrangement of extremely close trading ties, while still seeking to retain some ties. If that arrangement ends abruptly and without agreement, it will cause huge disruption to people and businesses throughout the UK, interrupting food supply chains and threatening life-saving medicines. The government’s own papers recognise that this could lead to civil unrest. 

Myth 10:

All EU nationals working in the UK will be able to stay in the country with the same rights they enjoyed when the UK was an EU member

The Truth:

All EU nationals living in the UK, some of whom have been here their whole lives, have had to apply to be allowed to hold on to their existing rights and stay in their own homes. There are many tales of people whose applications have been wrongly rejected.  Others, who have been granted settled status, are nonetheless concerned that the government provides no physical documentation to prove it, which can be a huge problem for them when asked to provide proof.  Many EU nationals, while being told they can stay, have been left feeling unwelcome.  

Myth 11:

There’s no need to sign up to the EU’s environmental and social protections, because the UK already has higher standards. The PM has been clear that we will maintain those high standards

The Truth:

While it’s true that the UK currently has higher social, labour and environmental protections in some areas than many individual EU states, it’s misleading to say we have higher standards than the EU as a bloc. The EU sets minimum standards, which member states are free to exceed (“gold-plating.”)

What the UK does now has no bearing on what it may do in the future.  A commitment by the Prime Minister is not the same as a legally binding agreement. Indeed, the UK government’s unwillingness to commit legally to the EU’s minimum standards can only mean that it wants to retain the option to lower them in future trade agreements with other countries.  The US is already pressing the UK to accept lower food standards in order to secure a trade deal, and that’s likely to continue under President Biden.