By Patrick Worrall and Georgina Lee
After years of wrangling, the UK is finally leaving the EU. We asked FactCheck readers what they want to know about Britain’s departure from the trade bloc.
Here we go…
Will the NHS get £350m more a week?
Litres of ink has been spilled over the infamous claim from the Vote Leave campaign that EU membership was costing us £350m a week – and that this might be better off going to the NHS instead. You can read our analysis of the claim here.
So now we’re actually going, will the NHS get some more money?
Two years after the referendum, Theresa May announced an extra £20bn per year for the NHS by 2023, compared to 2018 budgets. She said it would be funded by a “Brexit dividend” and alluded to “a figure on the side of a bus a while back of £350m a week in cash”.
But has this money really come from savings on our EU membership fees? The short answer is no.
Carl Emmerson of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies explains: “Brexit would only have to lead to the economy being slightly smaller than it would otherwise have been for the hit to the public finances to be bigger than the savings that will be made from no longer being a net contributor to the EU budget.”
He says: “This is not just our view — it is what is factored into the government’s own fiscal forecasts which are produced by the OBR [the independent Office for Budget Responsibility].”
And he told FactCheck: “While growth held up well in the months following the referendum, in 2017 and 2018 the UK essentially missed out on a bout of global growth, and estimates suggest that it is now around 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent smaller than what it would have been had the referendum result gone the other way.”
So Brexit will leave the public finances worse off than they would have been if we’d stayed in the EU, cancelling out the savings we make from not paying membership fees.
What happened to all those job losses?
While the IFS and others think the UK economy has grown more slowly than it would have done without Brexit, some economic forecasts issued by the government and others before the referendum were too pessimistic.
In May 2016, the Treasury estimated the short-term impact of a Leave vote. It said unemployment would go up by 520,000 — or 820,000 under the worst-case scenario.
This did not happen. The latest ONS figures show that the number of unemployed people has been falling steadily since 2016. There were about a quarter of a million fewer unemployed people in September to November 2019 compared to the three months before the Brexit vote.
Employment has also risen, with just over a million more people aged 16 to 64 are in work on the latest figures. The employment rate, which allows for population growth, is at a record high of 76.3 per cent.
The numbers of people working part-time are almost exactly the same as in May 2016, while the number of temporary workers has fallen. The percentage of people on zero hours contracts fell slightly between 2016 and 2019.
A recession and a dramatic rise in inflation predicted by the Treasury also failed to materialise.
In fairness, government analysts based their forecasts on the assumption that the Britain would begin the two-year process of leaving the EU immediately after a Leave Vote. In fact, the Article 50 process was only triggered in March 2017.
When do UK MEPs get their last salary payment?
One Twitter user asked whether UK members of the European Parliament would still get paid until 2021 (we assume they had this date in mind because that’s when the current EU budget period finishes).
A spokesperson for the European Parliament told FactCheck: “The salaries of MEPs are paid for the duration of their mandate. The UK Members mandate ends [on January 31 2020] so January would have been their final pay slip.”
Do UK MEPs get any kind of payout from Brussels now they’re leaving?
At the end of their time in office, MEPs can get a “transitional allowance” for up to two years. The European Parliament website explains the amount is “equivalent to their salary, for one month per year they were in office”.
But as a European Parliament spokesperson reminded FactCheck, “MEPs who served less than 12 months (that is the majority of the UK members) do not receive the allowance”. Nor do members who take their parliamentary pension (which they can do once they reach 63).
What will happen to the supply of medicines?
One Twitter user asked FactCheck whether our departure from the EU will have any effect on the supply of key medicines and medical supplies — specifically insulin and radioisotopes (which are often used for diagnosis).
The concern about medical supplies was mainly around what would happen if we left the EU without a deal — which many had predicted would cause queues of traffic at Dover and a disruption of vital supplies. FactCheck looked at the specific question of insulin back in 2018.
But now we’re leaving with a Brexit deal, the situation is rather different — at least, in the short term.
The Department of Health told us that patients will be able to access medicines, including insulin and medical radioisotopes, in the same way they do now after we leave the EU on 31 January and enter the transition period (which is slated to end on 31 December this year).
EU regulations on medicines will continue to apply to the UK through the transition period, while the government negotiates the terms of our long-term relationship with Brussels.
So the key crunch point is not the day we leave the EU, but the day the transition period ends. We looked at this second no-deal deadline back in October 2019.
The Department of Health told FactCheck that both the EU and the UK are committed to getting the long-term deal done by the end of 2020 and that it’s in the interests of both parties to reach an agreement that keeps goods flowing.
Are European Health Insurance Cards still valid after 31 January?
That was the question from a Twitter user. The Department of Health confirmed that current healthcare arrangements for travelling abroad will remain the same until the end of 2020, and this includes being able to use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Government advice is to make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance if you’re planning to visit a country in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland and that the EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance.