Brexit Bus: Is 2,000 million a real number or should it be 2 billion?

A new Brexit Bus is driving around the streets of Britain, but the figure on the side is raising eyebrows for an unexpected reason.

Instead of the £350 million a week promise made famous in the lead-up to the 2016 referendum, this bus, which was crowdfunded by a campaign called Is It Worth It?, claims a hard Brexit will cost £2,000 million a week.

Brexit Buses
(Kirsty O’Connor and Stefan Rousseau/PA)

This new figure seems to have social media users confused, however. Is £2,000 million the same amount as £2 billion? And if not, which is higher?

The confusion arises from the fact that Britain used to use a number followed by 12 zeroes to mean billion (1,000,000,000,000), while the US used a number followed by nine zeroes (1,000,000,000). In 1975 Chancellor Denis Healey announced that to avoid confusion, the treasury would adopt the US billion.

People were confused because Britain hasn’t widely used the phrase “£2,000 million” in nearly half a century.

Clifford Sofield, senior assistant editor at Oxford English Dictionary, said: “If you encounter the word billion in newspapers, broadcast media, scientific articles, and so forth, you should assume that it means ‘a thousand million’ (the number one followed by nine zeroes).

“There is a slightly older sense of billion meaning ‘a million million’ (with 12 zeroes). The idea here is that the bi- refers to a power of two: a million times a million. This sense is now generally regarded as somewhat dated and confined to British English, although I think some people rather cherish this meaning.

“It is not wrong to say ‘2,000 million’… Some people might prefer to say ‘2,000’, especially in the UK, because it eliminates any possibility of ambiguity: everyone will know how many zeroes you mean.”

In common usage, one million million (1,000,000,000,000) is now one trillion.

The campaign claims figures from a government analysis show that under a hard Brexit UK growth would be 5% lower over the next 15 years compared to current forecasts.

The group said on their website that “5% of GDP equates to £2,000 million (£2 billion) per week”.

The campaign was launched as a crowd-funding appeal in December 2017, initiated by non-party grassroots group Camden for Europe.

The crowd-funded bus, which bears the slogan “Is It Worth It?” is making an eight-day, 1,700 mile journey across the UK.

The original Brexit bus, which drove around the UK in the lead-up to the 2016 EU referendum, claimed: “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.”

LifeWeb editor