The referendum was never meant to be so close. By now the Remain strategy – centred on wheeling out economists, politicians and business brains to warn of Brexit’s threat to the economy – was meant to have ‘won’ enough daily news bulletins to convince the ‘undecideds’.
Yet while recent polls show that 52 per cent believe the economy is a more important issue than immigration (37 per cent think the opposite) and 81 per cent feel there is an economic risk to leaving, increasingly people seem willing to risk it. Why is this? It is certainly true that the timing of the latest immigration figures have elevated the issue of free movement in voters’ minds, but the more significant, wider factor is that the Leave camp are successfully doing the one thing the Remain camp are not; tackling their weaknesses.
Leave have worked relentlessly to cast doubt upon remain’s morbid forecasts for the economy – often using dreadfully misleading figures and false promises around the NHS to give significant number of voters the feeling that ‘it might not all be that bad’ and that ‘there are pros and cons to both options’. In fact, it is reflection of the Leave campaign’s messaging that only 26 per cent feel that there will be ‘a great risk’ to quitting. Remain, meanwhile, have given Leave a free run on the issues of immigration and sovereignty.
David Cameron could and should have done so much more here. He should be adamant that leaving the EU is not a solution to mass immigration, given the risk of increased illegal immigration and the terms of the EU trade deal we’d have to sign after Brexit.
He should also be tackling the sovereignty argument by being adamant that our global influence is increased in the EU and would be diminished if we leave. This argument, in particular, is there to be won. At an event in April, Alan Johnson told me that not enough was being done to champion the patriotic arguments to Remain – and that ‘we need to put forward the case that our voice is amplified in Europe’. Since then we’ve had Barack Obama making the case for British influence, and some welcome interventions from Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn, but crucially far too little from our own prime minister.
The argument to make isn’t that complicated. It is simply that for our own national interest we must have a seat at the top table where the most crucial decisions are made. These include tackling international giants such as terrorism, global tax avoidance and environmental concerns – issues that know no national borders and are a threat to the security and prosperity of all British families. It is therefore essential we engage with the international solutions.
Leave campaigners argue that ‘we’re Britain, we’ll still be listened to’ and ‘of course they’ll still work with us to fight terrorism.’ True to some extent, but it’s a bit like missing an impactful strategy meeting at work – you might be consulted beforehand, but your influence on that decision is significantly diminished. Relate that back to the British prime minister wanting to win an argument on how we defeat ISIL, or collaboratively tackle home-grown terrorism across Europe, and all of a sudden we might be wishing we’d joined the meeting. We should be doing everything we can to attend, to have more of a say and more of an impact on initiatives that are crucial to our security.
In short, the Leave campaigners want to demote Britain from a director to an intern. David Cameron should be making the point loud and clear that there’s no benefit to shirking these big decisions. There’s nothing British about sitting quietly in the corner; no value in turning Great Britain into Little England. Bar a couple of comments in a TV interview, Cameron has appeared reluctant to make this patriotic argument. The case for British influence should be stronger than the case for absolute sovereignty. But time to win this argument is now scarce.
Image: tristam sparks