The Guardian has been making a big deal about Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames claiming that Vote Leave Ltd have got it wrong on their claims about savings from leaving the EU and no longer paying the annual contribution.
Says Soames, one of its founding documents indicated that the UK would be free to spend nearly £20 billion on schools and other domestic priorities if it left the EU. Answering why the UK should leave the EU, the Vote Leave Ltd said: "We stop sending £350m every week to Brussels and instead spend it on our priorities, like the NHS and science research".
The £350 million works out at £18.2 billion a year – and was used to roughly equate the UK's annual £19.23 billion contributions to the EU as a condition of its membership. But Soames says this marks the UK's gross contribution, whereas the figure dips to £9 billion, according to Treasury figures, once the UK rebate and other EU grants are taken off.
In the event of a leaving the EU, the UK government would have to finance the equivalent of the EU grants. It would also have to pay to meet Vote Leave's preferred option of maintaining access to the single market. This means that Britain would save just £5.29 billion by leaving the EU. Soames says that this more modest saving would leave a shortfall of £13.94 billion in Vote Leave's calculations.
One can argue about the details here, but actually, Soames is not wrong in principle. Of the 2014 payments the rebate and public sector payments amount to £9.4 billion, which means that net payments are only £9.8 billion.
In other words, by the time we have taken account of the rebate and paid for the farmers and regional development, and the other things which come out of Brussels payments, we would actually be "saving" about £180 million a week – half of what Vote Leave claims.
However, if we use Norway as a guide, and assume that the UK will still be buying in services from the EU – from Europol to the European Defence Agency and Galileo, as well as the air traffic system, Eurocontrol, we could be the actual direct savings from leaving the EU could drop to about £5 billion – about £95 million a week, or about a quarter of the Vote Leave figure.
Whichever figures are used, therefore, the Vote Leave claim is an exaggeration. The only argument is about the extent – and that is not where any campaigning organisation wants to be. As I pointed out in August, citing Gene Sharp: "Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual. Exaggerations and unfounded claims will undermine the credibility of the resistance".
You can, I wrote, get away with inaccurate reporting for a long time and, if you are preaching to the converted, telling them what they want to hear, you can get away with it forever. Addressing that audience, there is often no advantage in delivering facts – people will turn away from detail they don't want to hear.
In this coming referendum campaign, though, we have to secure more than 50 percent of the vote. That means we need to covert of lot of people to our way of thinking – far more than is needed in a general election campaign. And there the Sharp precept must apply: claims and reporting must be strictly factual. Accuracy is at an absolutely premium.
Crucially, if we sell a false bill of goods, our target audience will not come rushing to tell us we're wrong. Most won't argue with us or even reveal their disagreement. They'll simply note the mismatch – very often intuitively. And stripped of that all-important credibility, we'll fail to convince – we won't convert the people we need to our way of thinking, and the left-wing media will have a field day.
Here, we now have an example, in the Guardian, and it won't be the last we hear of it. At every opportunity, the "remains" will chip away at this unsupportable claim, using it to erode Vote Leave's credibility. Extraordinarily, though, a Vote Leave spokesman dismisses the analysis, saying:
It's good to see that the BSE campaign are finally admitting the EU costs us billions. We send £350m to Brussels every week: enough to fund a new hospital every week of the year. But these figures are simply not credible, based on flawed assumptions that do not stand up to basic scrutiny. We've seen dodgy polls from the in-at-all-costs brigade, and now it's dodgy sums.
This really is quite an extraordinary response. By any measure, Vote Leave is in the wrong, but its response is to display that brand of insolent arrogance that will eventually be its downfall. Its underlying assumption is that everything it says or does is right, and everyone else (friend of foe) who disagrees, is wrong.
To add to its cascade of unforced errors, though, Vote Leave, with Cummings at the helm, could be on the brink of making its biggest mistake of the campaign, and one that could quite possibly be fatal.
Seen on the Twitter account
of the "genius" Cummings is what is quite obviously the start of a coordinated attack on the EU's Single Market, already being followed through in the group's campaign newsletter
Where this is taking us has not yet been revealed publicly, but Cummings is addressing the inherent conflict between maintaining access to the Single Market while seeking to abolish freedom of movement. Since we can't have both, his next "brainwave" (after his second referendum idea crashed and burned) is to "diss" the Single Market, making out that we are better off without it.
This is a line which probably originates from Ruth Lea
- it has her fingerprints all over it. Soon enough, I expect we will see emerging the insane WTO-plus option
, the effect of which would be to ensure
a post-exit collapse of exports to the remaining EU Member States.
Yet, such is the inherent arrogance of Vote Leave and its intellectual driver, Dominic Cummings, that they will not begin to accept the flaws in their own arguments. This is a "transmit only" organisation which purposefully shuts out any contrary views, while Cummings himself actively discourages
If this was a private party, we could afford to ignore it, but much in the way that we have seen the Guardian
pick up the errors on Britain's savings, we can expect the "remains" to seize on Vote Leave's further errors, to exploit them in the service of its own campaign.
Despite the money pouring in
, therefore, the "leave" campaign is no better off when one of its "big hitters" is effectively working for the other side. And, as we see
, it is not the only one – a subject to which we will be returning.