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Referendum campaign must be 'honest and well informed'

Referendum campaign must be 'honest and well informed'
4 min read

A Labour MP says voters are being misled by 'woefully inaccurate claims' by both sides.

Voters have clearly been misled by some of the woefully inaccurate claims made during the EU referendum campaign.

That conclusion was among the findings of our Treasury Select Committee report published on Friday and it was the one that grabbed the headlines.

Our cross-party committee found Vote Leave’s assertion that Brexit from the EU would save £350 million a week, with that money poured into the NHS "highly misleading” and that its decision to carry on repeating that bogus claim "deeply problematic”.

In my personal view, it’s shameful that key voices in the Leave campaign like Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson have pedalled this myth to the public.

As Vote Leave knew only too well, and as our report pointed out, their fantasy figure of £350m does not take account of Britain’s rebate and payments that flow back into the EU. Let alone include the economic costs of walking away from our biggest trading partner.

Time will tell if their supporters continue to repeat that figure in light of our report.  But given the attitude of those at the head of the Vote Leave campaign, I won't hold my breath - especially after those at the head of the Leave campaign had to be dragged before our committee.

There was a distinct lack of cooperation with our parliamentary inquiry from Vote Leave’s chief executive Matthew Elliott and its campaign director Dominic Cummings. As our cross-party report concluded, their behaviour was “appalling” and at odds with their campaign’s claim to respect the primacy of Parliament.

The campaign mounted by Britain Stronger in Europe has not been blameless - and we make criticism of their numbers too. But it is Vote Leave which has been guilty of the most luridly inaccurate claims.

Aside from our analysis of the claims and counter-claims, I hope our report has brought some clarity ahead of the most important vote that has faced us in a generation.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, said Brexit posed the 'biggest domestic risk to financial stability'.  Of all the evidence we heard, I think it was his that was the most compelling.  

The Bank of England is rightly cautious with its language.But his warnings about the possibility of rising inflation and mortgage rates as well as the damage to our prospects for economic growth left our committee in no doubt about the risks of Brexit.

We are only just recovering from the last recession. Many families, especially those on middle and modest incomes, simply cannot afford another recession with the wage cuts and unemployment it would undoubtedly bring.

The European Union is not perfect. Both sides of the debate have used numbers which exaggerate their case and made the public sceptical about every claim.

But our report is clear about the economic evidence for staying in the EU and clear about the flimsy and fraudulent arguments of the Leave campaign.

Under the Tories, not enough is being done to help ordinary people, to protect workers’ rights or tackle tax avoidance.

Being in the EU makes our economy stronger and more secure. It helps bring investment and good quality jobs - including those in manufacturing to this country. And it protects worker and consumer rights against Tory attack.

Being outside of the EU,especially when we are being led by a divided Tory government would be a dangerous risk.

I hope our report has helped bring some clarity about the truths and myths about the EU and will help us all make the right decision on 23rd June.

We all need to do our best to ensure that public debate on this issue is honest and well informed. I have no doubt that if we do so, the choice will be clear.
Rachel Reeves is a member of the Treasury Select Committee and the Labour MP for Leeds West

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