EU accused of making ‘biggest mistake’ with ‘horribly misleading’ chart in Brexit talks

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Trade talks between Britain and the EU will be in “real trouble” if there is not a breakthrough in the next week or so, the Irish Foreign Minister has said. Speaking to Ireland’s Newstalk radio station on Sunday, Simon Coveney said: “If there is not a major breakthrough over the next week to ten days then I think we really are in trouble and the focus will shift to preparing for a no trade deal and all the disruption that that brings.” Trade talks are being held in Brussels this week, with time running out to agree a deal before the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31.

As he arrived in the Belgian capital, the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost warned that despite “some progress” in recent days, there are still “significant elements” that are not yet agreed.

The sticking points in the talks remain the level playing field and fishing rights.

As tensions rise and the clock ticks down, unearthed reports shed light on how the European Union and British teams have been conducting the negotiations.

In February, the European Commission published a series of new slides arguing why the UK should not be granted the same kind of trade deal as Canada.

The deck was headed “UK is different from other trade partners”, and visualised the volume of Britain’s trade compared with other countries such as Canada, Japan, Switzerland and South Korea.

However, critics pointed to the fact that the bubble was much larger than the underlying figures would suggest.

The UK’s trade with the EU is around 4.4 times the size of Japan’s – but the bubble was more than 16 times the size.

David Spiegelhalter, a professor of the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University, said the slide was “indefensible” and went against “standard graphical practice”.

He told Politico: “It’s also the biggest mistake to make.

“It’s incorrect to use diameter to represent volume.

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“It’s the sort of thing a junior person would do.”

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, echoed his claims, describing the chart as “horribly misleading”.

He said: “The UK does have more trade with the EU27 than each of the other countries shown, but nowhere near as much more as you’d think from looking at this.

“If you’re going to use data to make a point, do use it properly.”

A Commission spokesperson defended the slide, saying: “The chart was generated with an Excel chart tool, based on data from Eurostat.

“The width of each bubble is proportionate to the total trade of each country.”

This was not the only chart that received criticism.

Downing Street was also attacked after posting the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s old “staircase” slide, showing that the UK could have secured a Canada-style free trade agreement (FTA) under former Prime Minister Theresa May’s red lines.

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Number 10 was using the slide to argue that the EU had moved the goal-posts on level-playing field commitments.

However, this was quickly seized upon by critics, including Mrs May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell, who pointed out that the EU had always highlighted the difference between the UK and other countries on the basis of locality and size.

In a recent report for Global Vision, Lee Rotherham, the former director of Special Projects at Vote Leave, said about Mr Barnier’s 2017 PowerPoint slide: “The slide no doubt fulfilled its immediate objective, simplifying things for the politicians that Barnier was trying that day to brief.

“But subsequently applied beyond that, the fag-packet design missed the absolutely huge variety of treaty types on offer, and even miscategorised the options cited.

“At its most charitable, it was at best a picture on a box when the contents were left without the assembly instructions.”

Mr Barnier has alway asserted that he will never sign up to mini-deals if the main talks break down.

However, according to Mr Rotherham, his actual mandate does not forbid him signing up to unambitious arrangements.

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