350 million a week for the NHS when we leave the EU – are you joking, Boris?

Did you believe Leave?

Do you ever wonder how many people voted Leave because of this incredible claim which Boris has just resurrected? I use the word incredible in its correct sense! Better statisticians than I have taken the foreign secretary to task over this, but as I have written a book on How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics, I felt a need to add my two penn’orth. Not 350 million worth, of course.

How much?

Let’s look at the amount. Yes, we do usually pay something like 350M to the EU every week, although the amount varies some years, being based on a formula.  So Boris is right? No! There’s a 100M rebate we get back every week. Don’t ask why they don’t just net it off. They don’t go for simplicity.

That leaves 250M a week for the NHS. Right?

Wrong. All the money we, and every other member state, pay to the EU, doesn’t just disappear! Apart from the cost of running its institutions, like the Commission and the Parliament, the EU spends most of it on agricultural subsidies and various projects, mainly from the Regional Development Fund. A certain amount of the agricultural subsidies comes to British farmers. As to the projects, it depends which projects get approved at any time. Overall, the UK benefits by over 100M a week. When we leave the EU it will be for the British Government to decide whether to continue subsidising agriculture and supporting development projects. If so, by how much? It could be more or less than the present.

Does that mean we will be 150M a week better off when we leave?

Probably. BUT. There’s a lot of negotiating to be done. We may have to pay something in future to gain access to the Single Market or to remain in some EU institutions. I expect each of us will have a different view as to what is a good or a bad bargain. But we might have 150M a week for the NHS? Maybe. If all other things are equal. Will they be? That will depend on two things. The state of our government’s finances and their political choices.

Government finances.

You cannot separate the money we pay to the EU from everything else. If the economy booms, there could be more tax revenue to the exchequer. On the other hand…! And that will depend on the state of the World economy and on the impact of Brexit. The total available to spend could be more or less  than 150M a week. There are risks, as they say.

Risk Dice - Leave has positive and negative risks
Dice – Leave has positive and negative risks
Political choices.

It will be for the government at the time to decide priorities. Perhaps the NHS will come top. What about infrastructure, education, defence etc? Then there’s the deficit. Remember that? Some think the first call on any extra money should be to clear that as fast as possible. Some of the Leavers are among the strongest believers in fiscal responsibility. They want to clear the deficit.

What does this say of Boris?

I would not go so far as to call him a liar. I would just say that his assertion of 350M a week for the NHS is misleading. Another example of how to be misled by statistics. Perhaps he should read my book.