Boris Johnson’s spokesman has accused the head of the UK Statistics Authority as suffering from “amnesia” in an increasingly bitter row over the how much money Britain sends the EU.
The Foreign Secretary claimed in an article on Saturday that the UK would “take back control” of £350million a week in payments to the EU after Brexit – a figure used by Vote Leave during last year’s referendum campaign.
UK Stats Authority chief Sir David Norgrove accused Johnson of a “clear misuse of official statistics” by quoting the number, as it does not include any money the UK gets back from the EU in the budget rebate or other spending programmes.
Johnson’s spokesman then claimed that after speaking with Sir David, the UK Stats Authority’s only objected was with the headline of the article.
This was then denied by Sir David, leading Johnson’s spokesman to accuse him of suffering from “amnesia”.
The £350million figure formed the centerpiece of Vote Leave’s anti-EU campaign during last year’s referendum, and was famously blazoned on the side of a bus which ferried Johnson and other politicians around the country.
Johnson referenced the figure in his 4,000 word column for the Daily Telegraph, in which he set out his “vision for a bold, thriving Britain enabled by Brexit”.
He said: “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week.
“It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology.”
In his letter today, Sir David said: “I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.
“This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave.”
“It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”
After Sir David published his letter, Boris Johnson and the UK Statistics Authority engaged in a tit-for-tat briefing war against each other.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna MP, a supporter of anti-Brexit group Open Britain, did not hold back in his attack on Johnson.
“Yet again Boris’ outright lying has been exposed by Britain’s statistics watchdog,” he said, adding: “The £350m figure was simply wrong during the referendum campaign, and it’s wrong now.
“Boris’ hard Brexit plans will mean less money for our NHS, not more. The IFS are forecasting a £58bn hole in the public finances as a direct result of Brexit, which will be paid for in higher taxes and lower NHS spending.
“Boris’ compulsive lying means he has lost the right to be heard on Brexit. He should give his leadership ambitions a rest and apologise for his continual use of dodgy statistics.”
The former chair of the UK Stats Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot, criticised Vote Leave’s use of the £350million figure during the 2016 referendum campaign.
Sir Andrew said the Authority was “disappointed to note that there continue to be suggestions that the UK contributes £350 million to the EU each week, and that this full amount could be spent elsewhere.
He added: “The continued use of a gross figure in contexts that imply it is a net figure is misleading and undermines trust in official statistics.”