Vote Leave £350m claim 'potentially misleading', says watchdog
A claim by Vote Leave that Britain sends £350m a week to the European Union has been dismissed as "potentially misleading" by a top watchdog.
Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the independent UK Statistics Authority, accused the pro-Brexit campaign group of a "lack of clarity" in presenting information to voters in the run-up to the EU referendum.
Vote Leave made the £350m the centrepiece of a poster campaign launched last week, claiming the money would be better spent on the NHS.
But Sir Andrew accused them of ignoring the annual rebate Britain receives from the EU, as well as other funds which flow from Brussels to the UK.
In a letter to Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb, he said: "The gross contribution to the EU in 2014 was £19.1bn. After the rebate, the contribution was £14.7bn and the net contribution by the UK public sector was £9.9bn.
"Taking an estimate of receipts to non-public sector bodies into account produces an estimated average of £7.1bn for the period 2010-2014.
"I conclude that there is a lack of clarity in the way the official statistics have been drawn on in the statements I have considered.
"In particular, I note the use of the £350m figure, which appears to be a gross figure which does not take into account the rebate or other flows from the EU to the UK public sector, or flows to non-public sector bodies, alongside the suggestion that this could be spent elsewhere.
"Without further explanation I consider these statements to be potentially misleading. Given the high level of public interest in this debate it is important that official statistics are used accurately, with important limitations or caveats clearly explained."
Norman Lamb said: "This is a damning indictment of the Leave campaign. There are no official reputable bodies in the country or internationally who have backed their bogus claims.
"It is yet another example of their desperate attempts to mislead people in this referendum campaign. They must withdraw any campaign material with this misleading and inaccurate figure immediately."
Will Straw, executive director of Britain Stronger In Europe, said: "The charge that Vote Leave are ‘potentially misleading’ the public is very serious.
“The highly respected, independent UK Statistics Authority join the Institute for Fiscal Studies in challenging Vote Leave’s fantastical claims about the cost of our EU membership.
“The British people deserve a debate based on the facts and evidence, not propaganda and dodgy statistics."
But Vote Leave stood by the £350m figure, arguing: "As the Office for National Statistics makes clear, the EU takes £350m from us every week. That is the total debit made from our national accounts.
"We get some money back but that is controlled by the EU - if we vote Leave we will take back control of all of this money. We will be able to spend our money on our priorities like the NHS."