The UK's 'Brexit' Referendum: Reasons to be Cheerful?

By Andrew Lansley


In this ‘Brexit’ referendum, the 'Leave' campaign and the 'Remain' camps are both optimistic, and both think they can win. Why is this? Let's consider both sides:

The 'Leave' campaign have secured mainstream political credibility which, allied with their dedicated activist, euro-sceptic core, is giving them energy and impetus. The country is largely euro-sceptic. Although this does not translate automatically or necessarily to an "out" vote, it does mean the 'Leave' campaign can tap into a deep well of sentiment. 'Leave' voters are more certain to vote. With senior Conservatives on board, the 'Leave' campaign can reach into conservative areas without relying on the UKIP leadership, who would turn Tories off. While the overall structure of the 'Leave' campaign has been a shambles, they are gradually getting message discipline and a ‘grid’ of activity into evidence. The 'Leave' campaigners know they are in with a chance.

So, why are 'Remain' upbeat too?

David Cameron brought back a deal which ticked the boxes. The key Cabinet figures with relevant portfolios are all on board. They are mobilising the arguments. The 'Special Status' for the UK is real, and means the long-standing Conservative ambition of "In Europe, not run by Europe" (championed by William Hague, who is supporting 'Remain') is realisable. The dangerous fallacy that Britain could vote to leave, but use that for a new negotiation, has been successfully dismissed.

Evidence on the consequences of Brexit are being rolled out and include not only the loss of market access, investment and jobs, but also salient issues like security, counter-terrorism, travel, consumer protection and prices.

The Government have published key documents on the process for withdrawal and the exit options, which principally serves to illustrate both what a nightmare prospect it is, as well as the lack of any explanation (particularly from the 'Leave' campaign) of what could be the future practical relationship of the UK with the EU.

So, thus far, both camps are making progress; each in their own way. The 'Leave' campaign want to communicate a simple message: "take back control", allied to an emotional appeal to sovereignty and identity, with cut-through on the emotive issue of migration. Events and their own efforts are giving them impetus.

The 'Remain' campaign, however, is founded more on evidence than emotion. They are systematically piling up all the problems which Brexit engenders. There will be dozens of dossiers to illustrate that, with a powerful cumulative effect.

So, this campaign is turning into ' Head v Heart'. Both are having an effect. Yet the uncommitted voters are probably still as numerous as those committed.

Who can say which will win? The run-up to 23rd June will certainly be a marathon, not a sprint. The evidence will accumulate to the benefit of the 'Remain' camp, whilst the EU's migration crisis will continue to bolster 'Leave'.

On that basis, it is too close to call. But if you consider this a cop-out, let me say this: the 'Leave' campaign appear utterly unable to explain how the UK can maintain access for our businesses to the Single Market without also signing up to the rules, including on free movement, budget contributions and ECJ judgements. Most of the public will understand that in order to guarantee Britain's economic future, continued UK access to the Single Market (which we helped create, shape and promote over the last 30 years) is essential. Without it, we'll all be a lot worse off. And as with most elections, it is the country's economic future which is the factor most likely to drive votes.

Which suggests to me that the 'Remain' camp have the most reason to be cheerful.