Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, is greeted by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, as she arrives for round-table talks at a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

EU’s Juncker Says He Regrets Staying Quiet About Brexit ‘Lies’

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union should have ignored the U.K. government’s advice to refrain from interfering in the 2016 Brexit referendum because the British people needed to know they were being lied to, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Juncker, who is due to stand down later this year, said respecting the then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s request that EU chiefs should stay quiet in the run-up to the vote, was one of the biggest errors of his time in office.

EU’s Juncker Says He Regrets Staying Quiet About Brexit ‘Lies’

“It was a mistake not to intervene and not to interfere,” Juncker told reporters in Brussels. “We would have been the only ones to destroy the lies which were circulating around.”

At the time, the British government thought that interventions by EU figures would do more harm than good in the bid to win the vote to stay in the bloc. Some in Europe agreed but others were frustrated that they couldn’t make the case that they cared about the U.K.’s membership and wanted people to vote to remain.

“I was wrong to be silent at an important moment,” said Juncker.

EU officials believe that British voters weren’t told the truth about the amount of money the U.K. contributes to the bloc’s central budget. Famously, the Leave campaign emblazoned “350 million pounds a week” on the side of a bus, but that figure doesn’t take into account money that the U.K. gets back.

The EU also thinks that voters were given wrong information about Turkey’s prospects of becoming a member and the ease with which the U.K. would get a beneficial trade deal if it left.

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