Brexit Dispute Over EU Budget Comes Down to What You Call a Half

(Bloomberg) -- A claim that leaving the European Union would free up an extra 350 million pounds ($485 million) a week for the U.K.’s state-funded health service was one of the most controversial parts of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

It was made by Vote Leave, which emblazoned the figure on the side of its campaign bus, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has continued to use it ever since. It represented what Brexit supporters said was the amount Britain would no longer have to pay into the EU budget. 

Brexit Dispute Over EU Budget Comes Down to What You Call a Half

The U.K. Statistics Authority called the statement “potentially misleading” because it ignored money Britain gets back from the EU. But instead of backing down, Johnson chose to ratchet up his defense this week.

In an interview with the Guardian, he said Britain’s weekly gross contributions would rise to almost 438 million pounds a week by the end of a post-Brexit transition period and insisted Leave campaigners had been right to pledge more cash for the National Health Service.

That prompted a complaint to the Statistics Authority from the opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, who said it was unacceptable that Johnson had chosen to “expand” on his original claim. On Friday, Statistics Authority Chairman David Norgrove responded.

“In contrast to the original claim, the foreign secretary acknowledged in his interview that the gross contribution will not be available to allocate to public spending when we leave the EU. He is quoted in the Guardian as saying that ‘about half’ of the gross contribution might be available to allocate to public services.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.