EU referendum: Boris Johnson wants the UK to back Brexit to stop funding Spanish bullfighting ... but we already have

Jake Cordell
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Boris Johnson has made some spurious claims in his time . This one stands up ... sort of.
Boris Johnson has made some spurious claims in his time . This one stands up ... sort of. (Source: Getty)

Boris Johnson wants the money he says Britain would save from leaving the European Union to help fund the NHS, rather than going towards Spanish bullfighting.

The Uxbridge MP and former Mayor of London made the claim on BBC Breakfast this morning, as he said a slice of Britain's £8.5bn net contribution to the EU was being pumped into the controversial practice.

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"£110m a year of common agricultural policy (CAP) money goes on Spanish bullfighting for heaven's sake," Johnson lamented, as he launched a new Brexit "battlebus" which will tour the country in the final six weeks of the campaign to whip up support for a vote to leave.

With claims and counterclaims flying all over the shop in the EU referendum debate, it's worth pausing for a second to assess such startling claim.

Is Boris right?

Sort of.

Media reports published in 2013 alleged that £110m a year of payments to European farmers through the common agricultural policy were going to Spanish farmers who were rearing bulls for fighting on their land.

The figures were taken from a report compiled by Spanish members of the European Parliament (MEPs) campaigning for bullfighting to be outlawed.

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The European Commission insisted at the time that "there is no specific EU aid designed to support the breeding of bulls for fighting."

Farmers across the EU receive payments from the CAP based on how much land they dedicate towards farming for production purposes. A blog post on the "Euromyths" section of the European Commission's website states:

To imply some Spanish farmers are receiving payments specifically for breeding fighting bulls or that the EU is somehow pro-bullfighting is disingenuous.

If there is no link to production, then by definition there is no subsidy for using the land to produce a specific type of animal for any specific purpose.

It added, however: "It is true that as long as national law permits it - and the EU has no legal powers to intervene in this - there is nothing to stop Spanish farmers raising and selling bulls for bullfighting."

Crowds at Spanish bullfights have been falling in recent years as the industry struggles to maintain itself against a backlash from some sections of the Spanish public.

Concerned that some money may have been going to Spanish farmers breeding bulls for fighting, the European Parliament passed a vote last year to outlaw CAP subsidies from being used "for the financing of lethal bullfighting activities."

In practice, it will mean that Spanish farms breeding bulls will be excluded from receiving payments through the CAP, but that in countries such as Portugal, where bulls are not killed in fighting, it may still be permitted.

While Boris's bluster made a catchy bit of morning TV, as with so many of the facts in the EU debate — the truth is somewhere in between.

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