Boris Johnson speech: one basic error every 80 seconds

In his speech this morning, Boris Johnson argued that Britain should try to agree a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU were we to leave, which would put jobs at risk and prices in danger of rising. 

He claimed that he wants the UK to replicate Canada's deal with the EU:

“What I think we should do is strike a new free trade deal on the lines of what Canada has just achieved.”
Boris Johnson, 11 Mar 2016, BBC News

This would be a bad deal for Britain because:

  • The EU-Canada Agreement began over seven years ago and is still not implemented. This uncertainty would be damaging for the UK economy. 
  • Canada has only partial access to the EU single market, including for financial services. This would threaten UK jobs.
  • Such a deal would push up prices because products with too many foreign components face tariffs, and quotas remain in place for key agricultural exports such as beef.
  • Such a deal would push up prices because car manufacturers must comply with the EU’s “Rules of Origin”, meaning increased bureaucratic costs.
  • Canada has no say or votes over EU rules but firms that export to the EU still have to comply with them. This would mean we would adhere to rules over which we would have no say.


His speech was also littered with factual errors, with about 1 error every 80 seconds, from the details of Britain's contribution to the EU budget to myths about the EU stopping British children from blowing up balloons. 

Error 1: Boris claimed that we send £350m to Brussels

  • This has been taken apart by independent experts. Professor Iain Begg, LSE, has said: “this is again misleading because the benchmark used is the hypothetical £19.1 billion gross contribution not the actual amount paid to the EU.”

Who pays for the EU and how much does it cost the UK?, 27 January 2016, link
Error 2: Boris claimed the single market is not good for the UK

  • The Centre for European Reform shows that our goods trade with EU countries is 55% higher because of EU membership. This is the “EU effect” on UK-EU goods trade.

Source: Centre for European Reform, The Economic Consequences of Leaving the EU, June 2014

  • Even the MD of the company at which Boris gave a speech has said that leaving would hit trade: “Brexit would undoubtedly make our business a more complex one…it is unlikely to help trade in the short term”

Andrew Baxter, MD, Europa Worldwide group, Commercial Motor, March 2016, link
Error 3. Boris claimed the EU is bad for UK growth

  • The CBI has pointed out EU membership has benefitted the UK economy to 4-5% of GDP: “our view [is] that the body of academic evidence points to an overall net benefit of EU membership to the UK around 4-5% of GDP, or £73bn-91bn per annum in 2014 GDP (£2,700-£3,300 per household), which has accumulated over time”

CBI, link
Error 4. Boris claimed that there are EU rules stopping children blowing up balloons

  • Independent inFacts have pointed out, this is a ludicrous claim: “Similarly, there are no EU rules banning children under eight blowing up balloons.”

Error 5: Boris claimed we could strike a free trade deal with the US

  • The US trade representative Michael Froman has made clear the US would not be “in the market for FTAs with Individual Countries:”

Michael Froman, US Trade Representative, 28 Oct 2015

Error 6. Boris claimed the growth of tech companies “owes nothing to the EU”

  • Tech companies overwhelmingly want to remain in. A survey for the industry body TechUK showed that 71% of TechUK members want Britain to stay in the EU. 78% believe EU exit would leave UK with less influence on issues that matter to their business

Error 7. Boris claimed we wouldn’t face tariffs outside the EU

  • The leading German MP Gunther Krichbaum of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, Chairman of the Bundestag’s EU Affairs Committee, has said that if the UK leaves the EU “trading conditions will not be in your favour”. He said: “There is the question of tariffs”

Daily Mail, 14 Feb 2016,

  • The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, made clear that if the UK wanted to be part of the single market from outside the EU, conditions would apply: “To be a part [of the single market] you have to pay, to accept the freedom of movement but not to sit at the table when the decisions are taken so it is not a reasonable decision for the UK.” He added: “Of course I think trade would go on in some way but it makes a huge difference whether you are party of the single market or not. Of course we sell some cars to the UK. We also sell some cars to china. China is not a part of the single market. It makes a huge difference whether you are part of the single market.”

3rd March 2016,
Error 8. Boris invoked the example of exporting to Korea

  • The UK benefits from a free trade agreement with South Korea, negotiated by the EU, which came into force in 2011. Since then UK exports to South Korea have increased by £3.7bn in value, or 104%.

Source: ONS
Error 9. Boris claimed that Brussels is producing two thirds of laws going through Parliament

  • In the last Parliament just 4 Acts of Parliament, of a total of 121, were exclusively to implement EU law

Source: House of Commons Library, ‘EU obligations: UK implementing legislation since 1993’, 10 June 2015, Institute for Government,
Error 10. Boris said we could remain the financial capital of Europe outside the EU

  • A 2013 CityUK survey showed:
    • 84% of respondents want the UK to remain a member of the EU
    • 95% say that access to the Single European Market is important to the UK’s future competitiveness
    • 90% think that an exit from the Single Market and the EU would damage the UK’s competitiveness
    • 88% agree that EU membership economically benefits the UK as a whole

TheCityUK, The City Speaks, 2013,