Many listeners to the Today programme earlier will have heard presenter Evan Davis, previously a BBC economics correspondent, make the astonishing claim that, if the government borrowed to build social housing, this would “improve the national debt”.
Not quite as many will have heard my interview with him at 7.20am when he pretty much shouted me down for suggesting that we could avoid a hike in rail fares if we stopped:
a) putting benefits up by more than increases in wages for people in work; or
b) paying £19.2 billion a year to the EU.
Having shouted me down, Evan Davis then assured BBC listeners that leaving the EU would only fund a small decrease in rail fares.
For the record annual spending on rail fares on the latest available data was £6.6 billion. So, if we left the EU, the government could if it wanted make the train network completely free. Indeed it could also pay for every single train journey (£11 billion when we include the £4 billion or so of taxpayer funding), and have £8.5 billion left over.
I know that this is an issue on which Evan Davis has form, since earlier this month Radio 4 broadcast a debate on the EU chaired by Evan Davis in which I and others spoke against Sir Stephen Wall, previously Britian’s top EU civil servant.
Since we are the EU’s largest market, and they sell more to us than we do to them, it would obviously be in their interest to have a free trade agreement with the UK were we to leave the EU.
Nonetheless, since pro-EU commentators, who are so over-represented in BBC output, scaremonger that we could face a tariff wall outside the EU, I made the point that the total amount of such tariffs could not under WTO rules be more than between £5 billion and £6 billion.
I then observed that this was only a fraction of our budget contribution to the EU. Hence, in the highly unlikely event of the EU putting up a tariff wall against the UK, our government could if it wished redirect that fraction of our EU budget contribution to pay any tariffs faced by firms exporting from the UK, while still having a lot of cash previously sent to the EU left over.
But Evan Davis interrupted me, first to tell BBC listeners that £5-6 billion (in any event a top-end estimate) was not a fraction of the EU budget, and then – contradicting himself – that, even if it were, it would be “a very large fraction”.
For the record £5-6 billion is between a quarter and a third of the annual £19.2 billion which we now pay to the EU.