The lines in Iain Dale’s blog post about the EU referendum yesterday started to gnaw at me. Here are the lines in full:

They don’t even really take on the argument that the £350 million a week “promise” wasn’t in any way a promise. The words on the bus actually said “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.” Now you can argue if you want that this is a promise to spend £350 million extra every week on the NHS, but it didn’t actually say that, did it?

The problem is that this, like much of the rest of that post by Iain, actually is rather economical with the truth.

Iain is correct about the slogan on the bus – this is a picture of it:

The thing is that this was just one version of the slogan. The version on billboards was this:

Here is the ITV News story announcing the billboard launch. The tweet with the graphic in it is still on Vote Leave’s Twitter feed here.

And here is Gisela Stuart standing in front of the billboard (source):

And here is Andrew Marr debating it on television with Iain Duncan Smith (source):

And here are both Johnson and Fox in front of the same slogan (source):

So, as I see it, there was enough of a connection made between the £350m figure and the NHS to imply that money would be spent on the NHS.

How then, I wonder, is Iain’s assertion that the NHS spending commitment does not hold, while some politicians (but by no means all) in the Leave campaign saying Britain must leave the Single Market means that a Hard Brexit is obvious? It is not. All of these things were grey during the referendum campaign – the NHS ‘pledge’, commitments about Turkey and the EU, and commitments about the Single Market. Iain is over interpreting what was said prior to 23rd June.


  1. Mrs B Bowles

    Regardless of the wording, only the government can make promises about the spending of public money, since only the government has power to spend it. In an election scenario, parties standing for government can make promises about what they will try to do if elected – though they are not always able to follow through. Lobby groups cannot make promises, only set out their position and what they want to persuade government to do.

    Referenda are not elections. The two – in this case, three – sides are lobby groups. Even if one of the two leave groups worded it as a promise, which they did not – no-one begins a promise with the word “let’s”; it is a suggestion – they have no power to do anything more than suggest it to the government.

    It amazes me that so many apparently educated people seem to be totally ignorant of very basic facts about how democracy works, or cannot distinguish an election from a referendum. If some of these extremely ignorant people accepted anything either side said as a promise rather than an aspiration, their lack of education is to blame.

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