Three pieces of statistical "bullshit" about the UK EU referendum

Economist Tim Harford attacks three of the statistics being widely cited in the campaigns over the upcoming referendum on the UK remaining in the EU, two from the "leave" camp and one from the "stay" camp.

All three of the stats are clearly bullshit, but some are bullshittier than others, with the bullshittiest being this one: "Ten Commandments — 179 words. Gettysburg address — 286 words. US Declaration of Independence — 1,300 words. EU regulations on the sale of cabbage — 26,911 words." That one is not only totally untrue (at least the part about EU regulations), it's also a recycled, 70-year stat that began its life during WWII in the USA. It wasn't true then either.

I've sent away for an absentee ballot (other UK expats can register for their own ballots here, which takes no more than five minutes). I will be voting for the UK to stay in the EU.

EU membership costs £55m a day

This one is from Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who says membership amounts to more than £20bn a year. In fact, the UK paid £14.3bn to the EU in 2014 and got £6bn back. The net membership fee, then, was £8.3bn, less than half Farage's number.

But even the correct number is little use without context. It is, for example, just over 1 per cent of UK public spending. Not nothing, but not everything either. And non-member states such as Norway and Switzerland pay large sums to the EU to retain access to the single market, so Brexit would not make this bill disappear.

The membership fee is small relative to the plausible costs and benefits of EU membership, positive or negative. If EU membership is good for Britain then £8.3bn is cheap. And if the EU is holding Britain back, then a few billion on membership is the least of our worries.

Three pieces of Brexit Bullshit
[Tim Harford/Undercover Economist]