Nick Clegg’s speech on the EU this morning was like a birdwatchers’ outing. A group of geeks (your correspondent included) trekked out to the marshlands of East London to observe a rare outing by an endangered beast: a British politician being openly pro-EU.

After negotiating the DLR, we disembarked and it rang out – the cry of the lesser-spotted Europhile. Some of the warbling simply didn’t make any sense (“I’m setting out the tramlines of my own opinion”), but several parts were far more worrying.

Most staggering was the people the Deputy Prime Minister invited to join his campaign for Britain to stay in the EU.

He appealed to the usual suspects, implicitly confirming Open Europe’s claims that EU grants are paid out in return for political support, but he also urged the police and charities to be actively involved. Surely Nick Clegg is aware that it is expressly illegal for charities to engage in political campaigning, and that Police Regulations forbid officers – still less police forces – from getting involved in politics? Both groups would be breaking the law if they did as he asked.

That wasn’t his only mis-step. By my count he told two outright untruths in making his case for British membership of the EU:

1) “Three million jobs” – Most eurosceptics will be familiar with the claim that three million jobs are dependent on being part of the EU, which was roundly debunked by Channel 4’s FactCheck two years ago.The reality is that while three million jobs may be dependent on trade with the EU, there is no suggestion whatsoever – including by the authors of the report he cited – that leaving the EU would reduce that trade or the number of jobs it generates whatsoever. Clegg was slightly more evasive with his language than in the past, declaring that “Three million British jobs are linked to the Single Market”. However, he still chose to imply that those jobs are dependent on membership, using the figure as justification for his claim that “leaving the EU would be economic suicide”, while the North East Lib Dems are simply downright lying about it. This claim was dishonest when it was used to argue for joining the Euro, and it’s dishonest now.

2) “…it’s just not true that it’s some kind of sinister super-bureaucracy – the [EU] Commission is smaller than Birmingham City Council”. This is another traditional theme for the euro-enthusiast. Unfortunately for Clegg, it’s also not true. There are three measures of size which you can use here:

  • The first is power – it’s obvious that a Commission setting trade, environment, immigration, employment, agricultural and other regulation for 500 million people is a bigger fish than a city council.
  • The second is budget – Birmingham City Council’s total budget for 2013 is just over £1 billion. By contrast, the EU Commission spends over £7 billion on administration alone, while the total 2013 EU budget is over £126 billion.
  • The third measure, which I suspect Clegg was referring to, is staff numbers. According to the Commission itself, it has 32,949 staff (or 32,666, or 38,000 depending which EU source you use – they apparently have trouble counting them all), while Birmingham City Council’s staff headcount is 37,929. So it’s a close run thing; unless, of course, you realise that the EU fails to count the employees of its decentralised agencies in its official totals. Once the “more than  5,000” people who work in those Commission quangos are included, the Commission employs either 37,666; 37,949; or 43,000 people. So, on at least two of the EU’s three figures for Commission staff, it is bigger than Birmingham City Council – without counting all the people employed at national level to implement its regulations and policies.

Lest there be any doubt, Jacqueline Minor, Head of the European Commission’s official Representation in the UK, told a fringe meeting at Tory conference last week that:

“…the Commission is going to have its share of administrative problems, largely because of its size and function. It’s on par with a national government.”  

Readers interested in learning more statistical home truths about the EU could do worse than read Dr Lee Rotherham’s The EU in a Nutshell.

It’s clear from Nick Clegg’s speech that he intends to fight an in/out referendum, and fight it hard. When you consider his calls for charities and police to break the law, and his dodgy use of statistics, it’s clear he intends to fight dirty, too.