The Brexit Battle Bus controversy explained

Above: the vehicle in question.

If you're British you'll probably remember the Brexit Battle Bus controversy of a year or so ago. The controversy so went that Vote Leave, the official campaign for leaving the European Union (EU) in the 2016 referendum on that matter, printed on the side of at least one of its busses, and probably elsewhere too, the following words, “We send the EU £350 million a week - let's fund our NHS instead”.

Now, after the referendum resulted in a Leave victory, traumatised Remainers viciously attacked the Leave campaign, especially Boris Johnson (who was transported in the vehicle), when it turned out that the NHS was not likely to get £350 million after our EU departure. Ludicrously, proponents of leaving the European Union who were unaffiliated with Vote Leave, such as Nigel Farage, were attacked for this too! For Remainers the bus became a symbol of Leave campaign deception, the “unfairness” of the referendum, and Leave going back on promises. The bus became a far-too-long-running joke (especially for BBC “comedians”).

All this stuff rather irritated me at the time, as it had always been clear to me that the bus was not promising £350 million exactly for the NHS, it was just saying that we spend far too much on the EU when we could be funding the NHS instead. Think about the wording as you read it again, “We send the EU £350 million a week - let's fund our NHS instead”. It does in no way promise that the entirety of that £350 million will go towards the National Health Service.

In any case, even if such a promise had been made, a major flaw of holding a referendum rather than a general election to decide an issue is that no group can be held electorally accountable for such promises after the decision is made. Vote Leave was not a political party, unfortunately; it dissolved after 23rd June 2016. Even if £350 million for the NHS had been one of its manifesto pledges that it went back on, there was no one to punish for it in the next general election, for Vote Leave was a cross-party organisation; therefore, neither Labour nor the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats could rightly be deprived of seats in Westminster. There was really nothing to stop either Vote Leave or its Remain counterpart Britain Stronger in Europe from lying or falsifying the truth or misleading in the 2016 debate, because neither side needed to worry about losing office after the vote as neither side sought office. This must have been why, looking back, there was such confusion about what was true and what was false - what was scaremongering, what was delusion, and what was fact - before, during, and after the referendum.