Hokey Cokey: Here come the EU referendum campaigns
By Otto Ilveskero
A former M&S boss, Tony “Iraq” Blair, Nigella Lawson’s dad, and that bloke from Kent – yet another starting line-up to disappoint the English public on the international stage?
With all three of the major campaigns – Britain Stronger in Europe, Vote Leave, and Leave.EU (formerly The Know) – to a yes-no question now under way, one might mistakenly think that at least someone knows when the EU referendum is going to be held. However, that date still lies somewhere between 223 and 801 days from now, as the only thing certain is that it must be held before the end of 2017.
Nonetheless, this is the beginning of a long and winding struggle of scaremongering and misinterpreted information that will climax in one of the most important decisions the British public has ever been granted to make. So let’s get ready to fumble.
Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) has the unpleasant part of convincing the British public that being pro-EU is something more than a brain infection, which won’t be easy when the main In campaign shares its acronym with mad cow disease (a.k.a. bovine spongiform encephalopathy).
The supermarket project led by Stuart Rose and funded by David Sainsbury has so far attracted big names such as former Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, Lord Sugar’s Apprentice aide and West Ham United vice-chair Karren Brady as well as all three of the living former prime ministers on its side. June Sarpong is also involved to attract the “younger vote”, because what kind of a teenager doesn’t like Loose Women and Jesse Ventura? Now the Europhile side can only hope these names connect better with the wider audience than Creutzfeldt and Jakob.
The cross-party In campaign appeared less organised in its launch than the Out campaigns, and its leading figure Stuart Rose does not seem to fit the shoes of a charismatic individual required for a campaign of this scale. Also, Britain Stronger in Europe will have to be able to challenge the emotive language surrounding the topic of EU-linked immigration in the midst of a refugee crisis. They will have to convince people that reforming the EU is possible from the inside in the face of a collective rage-quit.
— The Economist (@TheEconomist)
On the opposing side, the collective aim of the two Out campaigns is probably best characterised by a King Louie line from Disney’s Jungle Book: “I’ve reached the top and had to stop and that’s what bothering me.” The EU stands in the way of their possibility to govern however they want.
The elective dictatorship that is British democracy (not my words, but Lord Hailsham’s) gives the government of the day the power to rule with limited opposition or checks and balances, as we have recently seen from the actions of the Conservative government surrounding the tax credit cuts debate and the party’s election pledges. For those aiming for power and wishing to govern only according to their ideology, the European Union must seem threatening with its overriding laws and regulations, and in this equation it should not come as a surprise that the Prime Minister did visit Brussels in the summer to negotiate opt-outs from a number of EU’s social protection laws.
A popular argument for leaving has been the perceived democratic deficit of the EU and the unelected European Commission, which is something I agree could be reformed, but, correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve understood that there is an unelected body to the Westminster system as well that many of the same people don’t moan about.
Moreover, despite Nigel Farage’s statement that he supports both Out campaigns and claim that they are “complementary” rather than “contradictory,” it would not be unreasonable to predict that a clash of some sort lies ahead on the road to the vote. The two camps have already divided Nigel Farage and his only MP Douglas Carswell, and it is unlikely that the Conservative and Labour Eurosceptics would let Mr Farage be the face of their campaign.
As the campaigns progress, the Out will also need to provide their own vision on the future of the UK outside the EU rather than just complain about all negative sides of the EU. A free trade deal of any kind will have to come with a loss of sovereignty, such as the requirement to comply with the EU’s market standards. According to the Norwegian Mission to the EU, even Norway contributes around €340 million (€230m to EU’s development projects primarily in Eastern Europe and €110 to other EU programmes) to the EU without being part of the entity, amounting to about four fifths of what the UK pays per capita from inside the Union.
Finally, in the middle of all this stands one David Cameron, who has so far been challenged over all the technicalities of the referendum. The question and answers have been changed from what was originally proposed, the referendum itself has been demanded to be held in 2016 rather than 2017, 16-year-olds are likely to get the vote after all, and the government is still restricted from campaigning during the final month before the vote. On top of this his cabinet has split over the referendum, with at least six cabinet ministers demanding to be allowed to campaign for Brexit.
The polls (always reliable, right?) are so close that the only thing tilting the balance is the political leaning of whichever medium is the publisher. The SNP is stacking up boxes of blue and white face paint north of the border again just in case. The government is divided on the issue, and David Cameron’s shopping list is affecting relations between the island and the continent. And then there is the Irish border facing possible consequences. Britain is jumping to the abyss – but whether or not it happens with a bungee cord remains to be seen.