Boris Johnson reprimanded by UK statistics chief for '£350m Brexit payments' claim
Boris Johnson - Image credit: PA
Boris Johnson has hit back after being reprimanded again by the UK statistics watchdog for reiterating the highly controversial claim that Britain pays £350m a week to the EU.
Chair of the UK Statistics Authority Sir David Norgrove wrote to the Foreign Secretary saying he was “surprised and disappointed” at the move and branding it a “clear misuse” of official statistics.
But Johnson responded in strongly worded letter calling the intervention a "wilful distortion of the text of my article” and demanding it be withdrawn.
This was not the first time the watchdog had disputed the claim, after hitting the headlines during the EU referendum when its former chair Sir Andrew Dilnot said the £350m claim peddled by Vote Leave was “misleading and undermines trust in official statistics”.
The official Brexit campaign wrote on its bus that the UK sends the EU £350m a week, adding: “Let’s fund our NHS instead.”
Pro-Leave figures such as Mr Johnson repeated the figure regularly on the campaign trail – but critics have argued the number fails to account for the UK's rebate from the bloc.
In a 4,000 word article in the Daily Telegraph this weekend, Johnson risked the anger of opponents by reiterating the claim.
“Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” he wrote.
“It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”
In his letter, Norgrove wrote: “I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.
“This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave.”
He added: “It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”
Writing back, Johnson accused the statistics chief of a “complete misrepresentation of what I said”.
“I must say that I was surprised and disappointed by your letter of today, since it was based on what appeared to be a wilful distortion of the text in my article,” he added.
Responding to Johnson's Telegraph article, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn 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."
Johnson’s intervention has meanwhile sparked a civil war in the Tory party – with many thinking of it as a leadership pitch and a direct attack on the Prime Minister just as she prepares for a crucial speech about Brexit on Friday.