More light, less heat: our EU Referendum analysis

Last week MPs debated an E-petition on the Government’s EU Referendum Leaflet. Over 220,000 people have signed, objecting to the Government using taxpayer’s money to fund pro-EU campaign materials.

Since plans to distribute the leaflet were made public there have been suggestions from MPs that the Library should publish a similar guide outlining the facts to help people to make up their minds on June 23rd.

This seems like a good time to set out how we see as our role in providing information relevant to the referendum, and what we have produced so far.

What does the Library do and why?
We deal in facts in the Library. The purpose of our research service is to provide MPs with impartial, factual, quality information and analysis to help them do their jobs well. We rigorously scrutinise the information we include in our briefing notes. Is it true? It is relevant? Can we trust the source?

Why is this important? MPs are lobbied from all sides by businesses, charities, and constituents. They need a place to come where they can check claims made by lobbyists and campaigners, knowing that we will tell them the truth, without any political slant.

What do people want in a campaign?
During an election campaign, voters can make their decision on the basis of the record of the government, or the manifestos setting out what each party will do next. However, for this referendum so much of the discussion is about what might happen.

This makes providing objective briefing on the referendum harder. Not only do we not take sides in the Library, we also avoid ambiguity wherever possible – it’s just not valuable. This doesn’t mean that we can’t provide detailed summary analysis, it just means that it won’t fit into a neat bullet points. For every bullet point we might use there’s usually a paragraph or two needed (at least) to put the issue into to some context.

What has the Library produced on the EU?
We have produced many briefings on the EU Referendum, covering the policy implications of remaining in the EU and of leaving, what the UK ‘deal’ includes, alternatives to membership and suggestions for further reading on the subject. We set out what the choices are and what the implications might be.

What we won’t do is try and predict something when there isn’t enough factual basis for us to be totally confident. This doesn’t stop people from wanting the facts, and from being dissatisfied when we can’t give a pithy stat. Ambiguity isn’t popular in campaign season.

Take for example the question around how much of our legislation comes from the EU. We concluded in 2010 that “there is no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU”. We wrote a briefing paper on this, concluding that “it is possible to justify any measure between 15% and 50% or thereabouts”. But this ambiguity doesn’t suit a campaign and we have seen both ends of this range used. We blogged about this, updating the figures and explaining why it’s so difficult to pin down the amount of legislation to a single figure. It’s not possible to fit that sort of analysis into a bullet point.

Where to get further information
To help you sort through our briefings we’ve produced a page on Parliament’s website that rounds up everything we’ve published on the EU referendum debate. You can read through our papers, view the reading lists we’ve pulled together and find latest polling information. We’ve also just published a short guide to the referendum (it’s short for us, but still longer than a leaflet)

Full Fact are running a project to fact check all claims made about the EU Referendum, which is worth a look. There are lots of other places to go for information on the EU. You might also find the following pages useful:

Picture Credit: Theresa May’s first PMQs as Prime Minister by UK Parliament, Creative Commons Attribution CC 2.0 (CC by 2.0)