Which story is the April Fool?

After a quick look through the tabloids’ websites, it’s quite difficult to tell.

Oh, we have a laugh, don't we? April Fool and all that. Hyuk hyuk hyuk. The day when you can't believe anything you read in the papers!

Take, for example, this story in the Express: SALT BANNED IN CHIP SHOPS. I mean, we're not really meant to believe it, are we? Come off it. Classic April Fool japery, and very well executed – the casual observer could be lulled into thinking that salt really was being banned! The SALT BANNED headline and the intro "Salt shakers are being removed" make it appear to be a genuine story – but it has all the hallmarks of an April Fool spoof.

Props to the Express, though, for including quotes from the Taxpayers' Alliance and the Monmouth MP David Davies to make the nonsense appear more believable. But really! They'd certainly check the facts before lending their respected voices to a story that isn't all it seems. So, well done to them for playing along in the spirit of 1 April.

Oh.

The date on that "salt banned" story appears to be 31 March, not 1 April. And it seems that it was put out there as a real story claiming SALT IS BANNED, despite the salt not being "banned" at all, but merely tucked away behind the counter.

I suppose if that's a ban, you could say cigarettes are BANNED because they're behind the counter: you know, BANNED in the sense of being "available to customers". That kind of BANNED. The same kind of BANNED that cars are thanks to bonkers Brussels beaurocrats, as reported in Tuesday's Daily Express. When the headline says "Cars face ban from all cities . . . another plan forced on us by the crazy EU", that encapsulates a story in which no one is demanding that cars be banned from any city (let alone all) quite neatly.

If you've tried scouring through the tabloids' websites this morning, thinking to yourself "Which one's the April Fool?" I don't blame you if you've given up in the end. Is it the boy who assaulted someone with a marshmallow? The travelator on the golf course? The poodles dressed as koi carp and a panda? How are we supposed to tell the difference?

April Fool spoofs work because of a level of trust in the other 364 days of the year; if you're largely expecting what's presented to you to be entirely accurate, you could easily be fooled by a plausible enough tale this morning. If you get told about bans that aren't bans on a fairly regular basis, you might look at the April Fool stories and think: Oh well, it's no less ridiculous than what we had the other day.

It's all coming to an end, this annual silliness, for a few reasons. First, because readers can quickly seek out information to debunk the stories. Second, because we're all becoming even more healthily sceptical about what we read in the papers than we ever were. And last, because the EU has BANNED April Fool stories for reasons of health and safety. You couldn't make it up . . .

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.