Today marks two years since the UK officially left the EU.
To celebrate, the government has published a dossier titled “Benefits of Brexit: how the UK is taking advantage of leaving the EU”.
But four of these alleged benefits aren’t a result of the UK’s departure.
Let’s take a look.
A burgundy, white and blue Brexit?
The report trumpets “reintroduc[ing] our iconic blue passports” as one of Britain’s “achievements so far”. Between 1988 and 2020, UK passports were covered in Brussels-approved burgundy.
But as Guy Verhofstadt – who was then the European Parliament’s Brexit spokesman – confirmed in 2017, this wasn’t mandated by EU law. “The UK could have had any passport colour it wanted” while still part of the trade bloc, he wrote.
Indeed, Croatia still has its own dark blue passport, nearly seven years after joining.
The report highlights another apparent Brexit boon: “Enabling businesses to use a Crown Stamp symbol on pint glasses.”
“The Crown Stamp is a proud emblem of our heritage that people remain fond of. We have begun the process of allowing it to be used once again, a fitting tribute to Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee” it says.
But the BBC reported this month that an EU spokesperson confirmed that there was nothing stopping UK pint glasses containing the crown stamp while a member. They said: “EU law does not prevent markings from being placed on products, so long as it does not overlap or be confused with the [EU standard] CE mark.”
The report celebrates “delivering eight Freeports in England and at least one Freeport in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
As the independent think-tank, the Institute for Government, explains: “freeports are a special kind of port where normal tax and customs rules do not apply. These can be airports as well as maritime ports.”
But as regular FactCheck readers will know, the UK could create freeports as a member of the EU – and it did.
Today’s report says that Britain will be “using much less plastic, with much more recycled in the UK.”
It says: “Our single-use plastic carrier bag charge has already cut plastic bag usage from larger retailers—and, with its extension to all retailers last year, is expected to cut single-use plastic bag usage by 80%.”
Ministers often tell us about policies that would not have been possible if Britain were in the EU. And reading this in today’s report on the benefits of Brexit, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is one of them.
But the charge was introduced in the UK in 2015, when we were still a member of the EU. Meanwhile, Brussels has issued a Directive since then calling for member states to reduce single use plastic bags.
And while we’re here, we should say that the 80 per cent figure only tells half the story.
When we look at all types of bags, including “bags for life” and tote bags, the policy is set to reduce usage by just 21 per cent – and it will take ten years to achieve this – according to Defra figures.
This “all bags” statistic is significant because while the government has focused its efforts on reducing single use plastic, there is evidence that other bags are not as eco-friendly as they first appear. For example, you would have to use a single cotton tote bag 20,000 times to offset its environmental impact, according to research by the Danish government.
As part of a “Benefits of Brexit” report published today, the government highlighted four policies: reintroducing blue passports, using a crown symbol on pint glasses, establishing freeports, and reducing single use plastic bags.
But two of these could have happened while the UK was a member of the EU – and two of them did.