May 23, 2016
You may have noticed a rumour going around that there is some sort of referendum going on in June about whether Britain should stay in the Europe Union, or not. You may have missed it because the only people talking about it in the media are EVERYBODY – ALL OF THE TIME.
In fact even the President of the United States has an opinion on it now. Incredibly, at the time of writing there are still two months to go to the vote and seemingly no end to the claims and counter claims made by the Brexit and Remain campaigners alike.
Although there is no shortage of commentary, or opinion there is a shortage of cold hard facts. There is an air of uncertainty in the business community which may (not a fact) be affecting the timing of investment decisions. Everyone would agree that uncertainty is bad for business and so some clarity is needed.
At the risk of providing too many facts we have taken a look at fact checking resources available to the hard pressed and undecided business person to make up his, or her mind. The following is an appraisal of seven sources of EU and referendum facts – all of which should be reliably independent.
Fullfact.org is positioned as an independent, non-partisan, fact checking charity. Founded in 2010 they have “published thousands of fact checks [and] secured corrections from every major newspaper and from politicians across the political spectrum”.
At the time of writing Fullfact.org had a fairly comprehensive page of facts on the Europe page (https://fullfact.org/europe/), but was also in the progress of requesting additional funding to extend this coverage in the run up to June 23rd. This money will be used to expand the team to make sure they are covering (ie checking) as many of the claims and counter claims as possible.
Interestingly they even go so far as to debunk information coming from other sources on this list such as the BBC and in particular claims made by both sides on the Question Time programme.
As you might expect they have a Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/fullfact), which is worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.
Channel 4 news is a wonderful thorn in the side of the government with few, if any, senior ministers ever willing to go on the programme to defend their positions.
Their fact check section has been around for some time now, but the EU referendum section is less comprehensive than Fullfact.org and quite possibly more skewed towards the headlines than some of the finer detailed claims that are made in some of the lower profile exchanges.
The information comes with more graphics and some video from the Channel 4 news which is slightly more appealing. However, it does have a slightly opinionated feel about some of the content. For example, in examining the Brexit claim that we give the EU £350m a week, they add in recipient figures for Universities for research grants which brings down the overall net annual contribution to £5.7bn. Using phrases like “IFS thinks that even this could be too high, depending on how you deal with other items of spending” does undermine confidence in the “facts”.
The BBC has a similar approach to Channel 4 focusing on the main headlines as they appear. Because of this, it is not as easy to zero in on the subject areas you may be interested in.
In fact, not all areas are covered yet as it is following the headline debate rather than covering all areas. This means that detailed arguments such as those that may come out in programmes such as Question Time are not dealt with (see fullfact.org above).
There are some graphics with the information, but arguably not as good as Channel 4. Also it can feel a bit opinionated with commends like “it’s hard to see other EU countries giving the UK a much better deal than everyone else”.
The navigation is not as easy to get around as perhaps it could be as there is too much other news stuff wrapped around the fact check content.
openeurope.org.uk is run by OPEN EUROPE LIMITED their vision is stated as follows “Open Europe crafts solutions to the EU’s most pressing problems and campaigns to put these solutions into action. We are committed to reform of the European Union.”. This is not a charity, but a well funded campaign company it seems.
Their commitment to the reform of Europe and the inclusion of vocal Brexit supporters on their advisory board does to tend make you think there may be bias. However, they clearly state on their vision page that “The Advisory Council has agreed that Open Europe should remain neutral in the forthcoming campaign”.
This is not so much a fact check, more of an expose type site and can be very detailed – which is a good thing. However, the overall sceptical tone may make the Brexit argument stronger than it otherwise might be.
This is not a quick read, they have been around a while and draw upon past articles to add detail to the discussion.
As a blog, they have a commentary section below each article and the dialogue does add a great deal of value by drawing out more detail on both sides of the argument.
ukandeu.ac.uk is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and based at King’s College London to “explore the key aspects of UK and EU dynamics”. The ESRC is government funded and is more of an academic resource than a fact check as such – although the link above goes directly to a fact check page.
It is presented as a blog with each article effectively being a gateway into more detailed academic style enquiry. The fact check page by itself is relatively simplistic in comparison to the sites above, but there is a PDF takeaway at the bottom of the page which provides arguments on both sides. However, there is also a disclaimer on the bottom the page which says: “The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.”.
Research on other parts of the website touches on both wider and more detailed areas, so it is a good information resource even if it does not dynamically cover issues raised in sound bites like the news based resources above.
The Hunter Foundation has been setup and funded by Sir Tom Hunter the well known Scottish entrepreneur. Recognising the importance of the coming vote (“This decision is far too important to be left to the politicians alone to inform us”), the foundation has produced a 126 page booklet called “Britain’s Decision”. This book is intended to provide “impartial, factual analysis around the key questions facing voters in making their own minds up on the EU vote”.
Unsurpisingly the facts and figures have a very Scottish focus. However, many of the arguments apply to the whole of the UK, even if it is Scotland that is being discussed.
Again, this is not a fact check as such, but does go into a great deal of detail outlining arguments on both sides and is certainly worth a read.
The Open University – Open Learn
Last and certainly not least is the very comprehensive Open University offering.
This resource has been tied up with the Recent Jeremy Paxman Programme on BBC ‘Paxman in Brussels: Who Really Rules Us?’
Sceptical as ever, in the programme Paxman takes us on a tour of some of the more bonkers aspects of European administration, but at the same time finds some very interesting philosophical perspectives on sovereignty from Nick Clegg.
The Open University guide is detailed without coming across as overly academic and is split into 3 main areas:
One thing that is really helpful in this resource is that it not only outlines the arguments, it also explains the concepts behind the arguments. This is especially useful in the economic aspects.
There is a mountain of stuff to draw upon for sure with both video resources and downloadable documents such as a House of Commons briefing on the Financial Services contribution to the UK economy.
The full resource is introduced as “Duration 1 hour Introductory level”, but really if you start now (May 23rd) and follow all of the links to the many information sources you should have just about worked your way through everything by June 22nd.
It would be nice if there was a conclusion. This is such a complex thing to be voting on you could almost make the argument that the public should not be allowed to vote on it – and you can be sure that argument has been made in some circles. One thing that is clear, if the facts are not, is that this issue goes beyond the isolated economics and politics of Britain alone.
This vote addresses Britain’s place in the world as well as how we govern and run our affairs internally. No matter what you think of Barack Obama’s recent intervention on the referendum, the very fact that he felt it important to express an opinion shows that the impact of the vote will travel well beyond the boundaries of the UK and Europe.
In that light it is important to be informed when making your mark on the 23rd of June. We had better get this decision right – hopefully this article and the resources above will be some help in making your decision.