Referendum day 6 years on: 6 big lies

Six years ago today, Britons headed to the polls for an historic election on the UK’s future in the European Union, which the Leave campaign won with 52% of the vote.

During the referendum campaign, Vote Leave — spearheaded by the current Prime Minister — made a series of promises which would help Britain ‘take back control’. 

Six years on, we’ve had a look at how they’ve fared…

1) ‘Stop handing over £350 million a week to Brussels’

Ah, the big red bus.

Plastered with the Vote Leave logo, the ‘let’s take back control’ slogan and the claim we send £350 million a week to the EU, the bus promised us we’d use the money to ‘fund our NHS instead’. 

It became the central and most famous promise of the Vote Leave campaign, but even in its own time the numbers were questioned. FullFact estimated it was more like £250 million but  they warned “t​​he impact on the economy from changes to trade after leaving the EU is likely to be far bigger than savings from the UK’s membership fee”. 

The warnings went ignored and 6 years on ambulance waiting times are said to be the longest on record, treatment for cancer care in England is the longest on record and just last week it was reported that more than a thousand patients a day have waited for at least 12 hours in A&E. 

And the public is fronting the bill. In April the government hiked National Insurance to 1.25% (as fuel prices went up and universal credit went down), which Rishi Sunak said would be used to fund a health and social care levy. 

2) ‘Take back control of our borders’

Possibly the nastiest lie they told: that we'd have the powers to deport and turn people away who wanted to make a life in Britain, either by choice or by necessity. Their closed-borders-small-island-little-Britain lie has had long lasting and deeply damaging impacts. The number of hate crimes doubled in the days after the referendum and jumped by 41% in the month following it. Their pledges weren't just empty, but also deeply dangerous.

And as the more intolerant members of the Tory party found out last week, leaving the EU doesn’t mean leaving all international agreements we’ve ever signed. The European Court of Human Rights — which many Brexiteers have recently found out has nothing to do with the EU but rather was the brainchild of Sir Winston Churchill — thankfully grounded a deportation flight headed to Rwanda at the 11th hour. We were never just tied to EU laws. We’re tied to international law and the global community. 

3) ‘Free our businesses from damaging EU laws and regulations’

This one would be funny if it wasn’t for the thousands of British businesses who have not been ‘freed’ but rather thrown under the (Brexit) bus by a bonfire of red tape and customs controls as a result of the government’s threadbare Brexit deal. 

Exporting businesses now have to jump through endless hoops to ship their products to Europe, meanwhile the government has indefinitely delayed import checks after Minister for Brexit Opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg said it would be “an act of self harm” to introduce them. The irony was apparently lost on him.

In March, the Office for Budget Responsibility claimed we had become a “less trade intensive economy”, comparing our lost trade with other major economies post-pandemic:

UK and aggregate advanced economy goods export volumes fell by around 20 per cent during the initial wave of the pandemic in 2020. But by the fourth quarter of 2021 total advanced economy trade volumes had rebounded to 3 per cent above their pre-pandemic levels while UK exports remain around 12 per cent below…

The only thing damaging businesses is this government’s ineptitude.

4)‘Take back the power to make our own trade deals’

Talking of trade, Vote Leave also promised we’d have the power to make our own trade deals, which ostensibly is true, but thanks to the government’s woeful behaviour on the world stage nobody wants to come near us and no deal we sign comes close to the free trade we previously shared with Europe.

Sure, we rolled out a copy and paste deal with Japan early doors, but at a recent live session of the UK Trade and Business Commission cross-party MPs and business leaders were told that the deal has had “almost no added value”. The deal with Australia undercuts UK farmers who in 2016 were told they’d be better off outside the EU and lowers our standards with hormone-treated beef, not to mention the air miles it will take to get it here. The deal with New Zealand could change our GDP by either a positive or negative 0.01%. Nice one.

And then there’s the much sought-after deal with the US that Biden just won’t sign. Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that Johnson & co are ploughing on with legislation that could undo the hard-fought peace settlement in Northern Ireland which the States helped to broker. Still, Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s deal with individual states is a good second best.

5) ‘Have better relations with our European friends’ 

Yes, in an alternative reality. 

Last week the government introduced a Bill that leaders in Europe deem to have broken international law. “Let’s call a spade a spade - this is illegal”, Maros Sefcovic said about the UK disapplying parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol which they negotiated, signed and campaigned on. 

Following Johnson’s no-confidence vote earlier this month Jeroen Lanaers, a Dutch MEP said his departure “would be good news for anyone who cares about the relationship between the EU and the U.K.” And now we’re on the brink of a trade war in the middle of a cost of living crisis. 

Johnson is trying to make Europe our foe, not friend.

6) ‘Regain our influence in the wider world and become a truly global nation once again’

Last week the British Foreign Policy Group published their annual survey and found that more than a quarter of Brits still haven’t heard the term “Global Britain” and only 12 percent understand its meaning. 

We’ve cut our Foreign Aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%, dropped out of the Erasmus scheme and are on the verge of leaving Horizon. And this week the Resolution Foundation released a report saying Brexit “has damaged Britain's competitiveness, and will make us poorer in the decade ahead”.

Vote Leave said voting for them would be the ‘safer choice’. But six years on, the opposite has been true.