Richard North, 28/05/2016  

The long-awaited Treasury Select Committee report has finally arrived, with a helpful press release on its website.

Responding to his own report, chairman Andrew Tyrie complains of "the arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims made by both the leave and remain sides". This, he says, "is not just confusing the public. It is impoverishing political debate". He calls for an "amnesty on misleading, and at times bogus, claims", noting that the public are thoroughly fed up with them and "the public are right".

Both sides get a share of stick, but anyone who has followed the proceedings closely will know that Mr Tyrie has been particularly irritated with the machinations of Vote Leave, and its treatment of what he now describes as its "bogus" claim that we send £350 million a week to Brussels.

To the BBC Radio 4's World at One, Tyrie declared that that Vote Leave's £350 million claim was "by far the most serious claim out there" which was "simply not true". "There is no such sum that crosses the UK exchanges", he said. "A much smaller sum crosses, and then a lot of that money comes back as EU spending subsequently. A more reliable figure would probably be £100 million per week". Asked what Vote Leave should do about its battle bus, he replied: "Repaint it immediately".

Within the report, the Committee notes that Vote Leave regards the £350 million figure as "the core number" and is using it "again and again". It thus finds that it "very unfortunate that they have chosen to place this figure at the heart of their campaign". This has been done, they say, "in the face of overwhelming evidence, including that of the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, demonstrating that it is misleading".

"Without qualification this is unavoidable", they add. "Brexit will not result in a £350 million per week fiscal windfall to the Exchequer as a consequence of ending the UK's contributions to the EU budget".

But what marks out Vote Leave's action as particularly reprehensible is that, despite having been presented with the evidence contradicting its claim, the organisation has subsequently placed the £350 million figure on its campaign bus, and on much of its recent campaign literature.

In what amounts to an unprecedented action on the part of a Select Committee speaking of a campaigning organisation in the throes of its campaign, it says: "The public should discount this claim". It tells us: "Vote Leave's persistence with it is deeply problematic. It sits very awkwardly with its promises to the Electoral Commission to work in a spirit that reflects its 'very significant responsibility' and the 'gravity of the choice facing the British people'".

What further confounds this whole issue is that, in defending their use of the £350 million figure, both Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott made reference in their own oral evidence to the Chancellor's evidence to the Treasury Committee on 17 December 2014. In this, he claimed that the rebate was subject to "negotiation" and (elsewhere) "discussion" with the European Commission.

In Elliott's oral evidence he talks about the Chancellor claiming that the rebate was not set in stone. Elliott read a quotation from the Chancellor, where he said: "It is not a unilateral decision of the British Treasury or the British Government to just say, 'This is our rebate. We are entitled to it. Pay up'. The way this works and has always worked is there is a negotiation with the European Commission"

On the basis of this highly selective and tendentious quote, Elliott is comfortable asserting that the rebate "isn't a figure set in stone that we are guaranteed to get back". With no more evidence than just this one quote, he then asserts that the rebate is subject to a negotiation with the European Commission.

At the time, though, the Committee had concluded that the Chancellor had exaggerated the extent of ambiguity surrounding the rebate. His was a political stance to support his claim that the Government had, through its negotiations at the Economic and Financial Affairs Council, "halved" a demand for a €2.1 billion additional contribution to the EU budget.

In actuality, Osborne had been game-playing, so much so that the Committee had strongly criticised him, concluding that his claim was "not supported by the facts". It noted that the calculation of the rebate, and the circumstances in which it applies, were "embedded in EU law", something to be found in the very report from which Elliott (and Cummings) had so selectively quoted.

Rehearsing more or less the same detail we go through, the Committee had referred to Council Decision 2007/436/EC and the supporting Council documents on the UK correction. Their argument is very slightly marred by the fact that this Decision has been repealed by 2014/335/EU, but since the provisions are essentially re-enacted, the distinction is academic.

The Committee are right in asserting that these documents establish the precise method for calculating the rebate. They also provide for past rebates to be adjusted in response to GNI data revisions, such as those which prompted the rebate's revaluation.

The crucial point made, though, completely contradicts Vote Leave's assertion, as the Committee says that "the Commission did not at any stage suggest to HM Treasury that the rebate would not apply". Nor, it says, "could it have disapplied the rebate, which forms part of the Own Resources Decision that governs the financing of the EU Budget, and can only be altered with the unanimous agreement of Member States".

Yet we still get Vote Leave arguing the toss, making the utterly bizarre claim that the rebate is "a discretionary grant which the European commission can pay to the UK if it so chooses", making the completely false claim that: "There is no obligation on the commission to pay it". On this basis, it claims it is justified in including the rebate it is clawback calculations - even though the money is not sent to Brussels.

The result has been excoriating (and completely justified) criticism from a Select Committee. Yet the obdurate Elliott refuses to admit error. Still he tries to defend his position. "We do get some of that money back", he says, "but we don't get to control how much of it is spent – that is one of the main arguments for voting leave". Adding: "We think it's safer to take back control and better spend our money on our priorities", he thus ignores completely the point that the rebate is a deduction as of right, over which we have complete control.

Vote Leave's obduracy is is why this issue isn't going away. If they admitted error, we could move on. But despite everything, we have their spokesmen arguing black is white, while their apologists look on with approval. Bizarrely, they are refusing to accept any hint of error, rejecting the clearest of evidence that they are absolutely and completely wrong.

Nor is this by any means their only flaw. The Committee also finds that it is misleading for both Vote Leave and to claim that £600 million a week, or £33.3 billion a year, could be saved by not having to comply with EU regulations.

"To persist with such a claim is a tendentious representation of the research on which it is based", says the report, which quotes £12.8 billion a year as a more plausible figure for the maximum regulatory savings from a potential Brexit. And even that is highly debatable – an issue to which we will return.

And on yet another matter, the Committee argues that: "It is disingenuous to claim with any confidence, as some representatives from the 'leave' campaign groups have done, that the UK would be able to leave the EU, drop free movement and continue to have the same rights to trade with EU Member States as it does now". To this also, we must return.

For the rest, we can accept that the "remains" are getting things wrong as well - badly wrong. And it is clearly the case that Cameron himself is not telling the truth about his so-called reform "treaty" - something which the Committee does not address. By contrast, we have been among the first to call him an unprincipled liar.

But to suggest equality of arms is completely to miss the point. We expect the other side to lie - that's what Europhiles do. That's why we wrote a book called The Great Deception. When they do, it gives us powerful ammunition with which to challenge them. But, to do so, we need a "Caesar's wife" for our own campaign – an organisation that is above reproach and can occupy the moral high ground.

Instead, we have Vote Leave, effectively lying through its teeth. And when it is caught out, its spokesmen brazenly defy criticism from all quarters, persisting with something which is clearly and demonstrably wrong. And if Vote Leave (as it does) it argues that it benefits from the controversy, it is wrong. All it is doing is destroying the credibility of the entire "leave" campaign.

At a personal level, Elliott, Cummings and his motley crew typify the arrogant "Tory Boy" tendency that has hijacked the "leave" campaign. It is a group that thinks it knows everything, despite making basic errors, and is utterly contemptuous of anyone who disagrees with them.

These are the people with whom I had attempted to negotiate the adoption of Flexcit. You can see quite why I have not have had any success. These arrogant "leaders of men" promote only their own opinions. Anything from outside their "bubble" is treated with disdain, and a practised contempt that in a less restrained society would invite actual bodily harm.

Although some want us to work with these people, this is impossible. There is no dealing with them, no compromise and no middle way. Imbued with the insolence of the SW1 "master race", they treat us as serfs. Our job is to shut up and do as we are told. We cannot work with such people. No one can.

Now Tyrie has experienced this insufferable arrogance, and it is clear that he doesn't like it. But we've been putting up with it for years, alongside the slander that somehow, it is me at fault, and that I am "difficult" to work with.

For all their pretensions, these people are the dregs, and the sooner they are cleared out the better. We are going nowhere as long as they are in a position to spread their poison and their malign stupidity. If we achieve nothing else from this referendum campaign, it must be that - a cleaning out of the stables.

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