Richard North, 15/05/2016  

There are many powerful arguments for why Britain could thrive if we left the EU (so long as this was done in the right way), says Booker in today's column.

But it is unfortunate that one that doesn't stand up for a moment is the slogan blazoned over that red "Boris bus" in which the former mayor of London is touring the country on behalf of the Leave campaign. "We send the EU £350 million a week", it says, "let's fund the NHS instead".

That £350 million a week would add up to some £18 billion a year, which was the gross payment we made last year to "EU institutions". But £4.9 billion of that came back to us in the rebate. A further £4.4 billion goes on EU policies such as subsidies to farmers, rural and regional development and academic research; which no one is suggesting we should stop spending money on. We send another £1.2 billion to Brussels from our aid budget, the size of which is now fixed in law.

If we want continued access to the "internal market" (without which we would genuinely be making such a crazy "leap in the dark" that, whatever the Leave campaign may say, it could lose the referendum), this would cost us, on Norway's example, another £4 billion a year.

Chuck in a few other commitments that would remain after we left, and there would soon be scarcely a penny left of that "£350 million a week" to spend on the NHS.

To pretend otherwise, Booker adds, is just as crackers as George Osborne's assertion that leaving would cost us £36 billion a year because of lost tax receipts due to the damage it would do to our economy. Equally as bizarre is Mr Cameron leading the "remain" campaign with the claim that leaving the EU would cost every household £4,300.

Cameron is telling us that: "If we vote to leave on 23 June we will be voting for higher prices, we will be voting for fewer jobs, we will be voting for lower growth, we will be voting potentially for a recession. That is the last thing our economy needs".

Please, Booker concludes, can we stop playing these childish games and move on to some proper, grown-up arguments?

This, though, may not be all that simple. Despite serial liar Johnson touring the country in his "lies on wheels" bus, a ComRes poll conducted for the Sunday Mirror has 21 percent of respondents agreeing that David Cameron was more likely to tell the truth about the EU than Johnson, while 45 percent said Johnson was more believable than Cameron.

Possibly, given only these two to choose between, this is to ask people to determine the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.

But, despite Johnson getting the better score, 33 percent of respondents believed they would be better off if Britain stayed in the EU, as against 29 percent who thought they would be better off if Britain left. On this basis, it seems that the "remain" lies are doing better that those on offer from "leave". Not for nothing, therefore, do Cameron's allies predict a 58 percent victory.

Certainly, the Western Daily Press is not particularly impressed by the Boris lie, recording that the man has at last admitted the £350 million figure on the side of his big red bus was misleading – and was not the total amount of money the EU costs each week.

Yesterday, according to the WDP, was his day "of bungles and gaffes", when he allied himself "shoulder-to-shoulder with Donald Trump", claimed Britain was a "wife forced to allow European murderers into her home", and was greeted by protestors with four-letter signs in Bristol.

To cap it all, Johnson bailed out of an appearance later in the day in Salisbury, just as that controversial bus was barred from stopping in the city's Market Place.

On the other hand, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was in London giving a speech, supposedly to support Labour's end of the campaign to remain in the EU.

It was carried live and in full by BBC television and, having watched part of if, one can only say that it was truly dreadful. A rambling, unstructured dissertation had it that, it was "not the European Union that's the problem - it's the Conservative government". On that basis, presumably, we should vote for the EU and then vote out the Conservatives.

The funny thing, really, is that we could vote out the Conservatives if we wanted to. But if we vote for the EU this time, it's probably the last opportunity we'll ever have to vote it out. But to Mr Corbyn, getting rid of the Tories is more important. "I'm in favour in 2020 of Vote Leave - vote for the Tories to leave office", he says.

But then, this just adds to the surreal nature of this referendum campaign. The Tories are fighting each other, Labour's fighting the Tories and everybody's lying about the European Union - and now Mr Johnson is comparing the EU with the Third Reich.

Small wonder Booker, rather forlornly, wants the campaigners to stop playing games. Sadly, it doesn't look like happening any time soon.

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