Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has repeated the controversial claim that leaving the EU would save £350m a week, which could be spent on the NHS.
The figure, used by Leave campaigners before the referendum, was “misleading”, the UK statistics watchdog later said.
Mr Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph that it would be fine, “if a lot of that money went on the NHS”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his words “dredge up the fantasy”.
In the run up to the referendum, the Leave campaign claimed the UK sent £20bn a year, or £350m a week, to Brussels in 2014.
Vote Leave emblazoned the figure on its campaign bus and said the money could be used to fund extra spending on public services such as the NHS.
But a letter from the head of the UK statistics watchdog Sir Andrew Dilnot during the referendum campaign described the figure as “potentially misleading”.
By Liz Corbin, Reality Check Editor
The claim that the UK sent £350m per week to the EU is wrong.
There are three things to consider:
- The UK’s gross contribution to the EU.
- The UK’s rebate, negotiated by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
- The amount of money the EU gives to the UK.
Boris Johnson and other Leave campaigners claimed that in the calendar year 2014, the UK gave £350m per week to the EU.
The UK’s gross contribution was actually £361m, but – crucially – the rebate is removed before any money is sent to the EU.
So the amount sent to the EU in 2014 was £276m per week, after the rebate.
The Vote Leave campaign’s claim argued that the money could be spent on the NHS.
Well, it could, but that would mean cutting all the money the EU sends back to the UK, for example on farming subsidies and grants for community projects.
That was in 2014. In 2016 the UK sent £252m per week to the EU (down £24m), after the rebate.
The foreign secretary returned to the figure in an article on Saturday, setting out his vision for the UK’s “glorious” future post-Brexit.
Mr Johnson said the UK should pay nothing to the EU for access to the single market and use it as an opportunity to implement lower taxes.
He said if Britain did continue its membership of the single market and customs union it would make a “complete mockery” of the referendum.
It comes ahead of Theresa May’s visit to Florence to set out the UK’s wish for a “special partnership” with the EU after Brexit.
Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman said the article was an attempt to “fire a warning shot” at Mrs May, six days ahead of her speech in Italy.
“He knows that his reputation is on the line – that Brexit needs to work out well, otherwise he’s going to get the blame,” Mr Shipman told BBC Radio 4’sToday programme.”
“If it wasn’t a leadership bid – they must have known it would be seen as one – and that just shows how agitated Boris is by what’s going on with the European negotiations.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna also suggested Mr Johnson could be vying for a promotion, while Mrs May’s former advisor Will Tanner called the article a “prelude to resignation”.
But Crispin Blunt, the Conservative MP and former foreign minister, rejected that it was a leadership bid and said the position laid out by Mr Johnson was “completely consistent with the rest of the government”.
Jeremy Corbyn ,meanwhile, said Mr Johnson’s comments “laid bare the conflicts at the heart of Theresa May’s government over Brexit” and undermined the prime minister’s authority.
He said: “The foreign secretary even has the gall to dredge up the fantasy of £350 million a week extra for the NHS.
“The prime minister must spell out now how this will be paid for, or stand condemned for once again trying to mislead the British public.”