Saturday 3 May 2014

“70% of national legislation comes from European legislation”. Who said that?

One of my favourite BBC Radio 4 programmes, More or Less, returned this week and began by tackling the Lib Dems over Nick Clegg's deeply dubious assertion (during his first debate with Nigel Farage) that a mere 7% of our laws derive from the EU legislation. 

This example of statistical dodginess from the second most powerful politician in the land, the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg MP no less, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, must have struck them as something that needed challenging - and rightly so. 

A clip from an old edition of More or Less where Tim Harford of the FT berated the-then Lib Dem party chairman was followed by an interview with the present Lib Dem chairman, Tim Farron, where Mr Farron was berated by Tim over his leader's use of that 7% statistic.

And to think that some people accuse the BBC (and the FT) of being pro-EU!

Meanwhile back in the real world...

Of course that didn't really happen. 

Hard as it may be to believe, the statistical dodginess of the second most powerful politician in the land, the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg MP no less, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, wasn't the target of Tim Harford's scrutiny. 

No, it was UKIP's claim that 75% of UK law comes from Europe that was under fire, and it was UKIP party members who were being grilled over their use of stats.

And to think that some people accuse the BBC (and the FT) of being pro-EU!

Taken inside the 'More or Less' studio - a selfie from Tim & Co.

It was inconvenient for More or Less that EU commissioner Viviane Reding said - literally said, and said in English - that "70% of the laws in this country [the UK] are made, co-decided by the European Parliament". More or Less suggested that she'd got her words wrong, and her press office (who they contacted) agreed with More or Less's interpretation of events. (Hmm, I think I'd like to hear her say that though.) 

More or Less didn't, however, contact the press office of Martin Schultz, president of the European parliament - or even mention Herr Schultz. He too has stated that “70% of national legislation comes from European legislation.”

This much-sought-after statistic, as More or Less says, is certainly clouded in uncertainty though and they were right to look at it. 

The House of Lords found that the figure is impossible to calculate accurately, but probably lies somewhere between 15% and 50% - depending on how you calculate it. 

So both pro-EU Martin Schultz and anti-EU UKIP are probably overstating that stat from one side, and pro-EU Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems are just as likely to be overstating it from the other side.

Still, even if pinning down a specific number by totting up individual laws is very hard (if not impossible), it's surely easier - and much more important - to measure the real impact of EU laws and regulations on the UK economy and on British people on an everyday basis. 

That's where the real argument lies, and it would be interesting to hear More or Less's findings about that. The results may not be to their taste though.


Update 8/5: And, jumping Jehoshaphat, look who EU Referendum's Richard North has discovered claiming that "probably half of all new legislation now enacted in the UK begins in Brussels"! - yes, back in 2003 (in the Guardian), it's one Nick Clegg. 

1 comment:

  1. I`m afraid Tim Harford has long left the land of science and true statistcal analysis and entered the weird and fraudulent realms of the OU, Birkbeck and UEA-where Popper, Kuhn and Lovelock have long left the buildings-to be replaced by the Monbiots, Packhams and Harrabins.
    Your point re Reding is crucial-no matter what the liberals or the Commons say...if the EU say it`s 70%, then it`s up to Harford to deconstruct THAT figure..not squabble about Nigels extra 5%.
    Typical reding herrings from the BBC and its EU compadres.
    As if we don`t know.


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