EU's Barnier Trolls Boris Johnson With `Inexact' Data Jibe

(Bloomberg) -- European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has finally revealed what he thinks about the claim that the U.K. could allocate an extra 350 million pounds ($470 million) a week to its health-care system when it stops paying a membership fee to the bloc.

During the run-up to Britain’s 2016 referendum, Boris Johnson was among those who put forward the suggestion that the National Health Service would benefit financially from Brexit. It became one of the most memorable claims of the campaign and featured on the side of the pro-Brexit camp’s buses.

Until now, the EU has largely stayed silent on the issue. But on Tuesday, Barnier said the figure was “inexact,” and it was a topic he has brought up with the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage.

“We discussed the campaign, which was based on inexact foundations,” Barnier said on Tuesday in an interview with Euranet that was streamed online. “The famous 350 million which one would recover from Brussels to put into the health service -- it is much more complicated than that.”

The claim was widely criticized at the time, with the U.K. Statistics Authority saying it was potentially misleading, and official data showing the amount the U.K. sends the EU each week is about 180 million pounds. But Johnson doubled down on the promise in January, saying he “grossly underestimated” the amount of cash that would become available.

“The consequences of Brexit were not explained in advance, not completely,” Barnier said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.