Today the Electoral Commission said the question should be framed as stay/leave rather than yes/no. (They have given similar advice before.) The government knew about the announcement beforehand and immediately announced they agreed. This is good news.
Cameron has been persuaded that his original desire to be the YES campaign was an error. It is unclear to me whether this nudges things in his direction or not. There are reasonable arguments either way. I suspect it will not help either side much. More importantly, I think clarity about stay/leave will avoid the confusion that I had already noticed with Yes/No, so regardless of which side it helps (if any) it is better for the public debate for this element of confusion to be eliminated.
One of the reasons why we decided in June to revive the old ‘no’ campaign logo and branding from the euro campaign 1999-2002 was so that we could get going fast without having to spend a penny on branding and without having to worry about the question being changed as it went through Parliament. When we discussed it we thought it unlikely this would happen but worth guarding against, particularly given branding processes can be expensive as well as nightmarish. The announcement today therefore is unexpected good news because of the clarity and hasn’t cost us anything.
The referendum will rest on whether the third of the public that dislikes the EU and would like to leave are persuaded that they have little to fear in terms of their jobs and living standards and that a vote to STAY is at least as risky as a vote to LEAVE given the long-term dynamics of the EU grabbing more money and power every year and planning a new Treaty after the referendum. If they are so persuaded, we will win by at least 65%. If they are not, we will lose roughly 65:35. If they split 50:50 it will be close.
Now, few MPs have heard of the Five Presidents Report and the Commission’s plan for a new Treaty (part of the reason is that it was published at the same time as the Tunisia terrorist attacks so it got almost zero coverage). When the vote happens, most of the country will know about it. Now, almost nobody in the country has heard of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights which gives the ECJ more power over Britain than the Supreme Court has over US states, and which Blair promised would have ‘no more legal effect than the Sun or the Beano‘. (NB. this is NOT the ECHR which is justiciable in the Strasbourg court). When the vote happens, most of the country will know about it. STAY will not seem like the safe status quo because it is not a safe status quo. The EU is inexorably changing as it always planned to do, adapting to the long-term plan for the euro to drive ‘political union’ – a plan that the Foreign Office understands very well but which it has masked for decades with propaganda about ‘3 million jobs’ and so on.
The choice is not between ‘a safe status quo’ and ‘a risky leap’. The choice is between whether you think it is riskier a) to keep giving away control and money to an organisation that cannot cope with the economic and technological forces changing the world, and cannot use the power it already has wisely yet wants even more power to prop up the euro, or b) to take back control and money and negotiate a new deal based on free trade and closer international cooperation with our European friends and other countries around the world.
NB. The 5 Presidents Report and the Commission’s timetable also opens up a wild card option for Cameron that I will blog on soon…
Half an hour after writing the above I got this poll back from ICM.
Coincidentally, given today’s news, I asked ICM to ask a question over the weekend to probe attitudes.
The standard tracker question on the (now) ‘old’ official question shows 46(+2):35(-2) for YES, bang in the region where it has been for weeks.
We asked another question:
‘Which of the following best reflects your view?
A) I am not worried about the UK leaving the EU because I believe it can negotiate a free trade deal with the EU, and carry on cooperating in a friendly way from outside the EU.
B) I am worried about the UK leaving the EU because I believe that outside the EU it will not be able to negotiate a free trade deal and cooperate in a friendly way.’
The headline figure is 43:40 for (a), i.e. neck and neck (within margin of error).
If you look at the crossbreaks, it shows that the 43% who say YES break 76:14 for B, while the 35% who say NO break 90:4 for A.
This is interesting. Lots of polling shows the public divide roughly into a third definite OUT, a quarter to a third definite IN, and about a third who dislike the EU and would like to be out but are worried about leaving because of fears over jobs and living standards.
Today’s poll suggests that if more people are persuaded that we can get a new deal based on free trade and friendly cooperation, then the headline voting number could swing our way quite significantly.
Of course this will be hard. There is substantial fear that, I think, is unjustified. Whether you are pro/anti the EU it ought to be clear that Britain can have a free trade deal and cooperate from outside as other countries in Europe and elsewhere do.
All those who think like me that the EU cannot cope with the profound economic and technological transitions reshaping the world should reflect on this. We need to present a picture of how the world could be organised much better, with 1950s bureaucracies like the EU replaced with dynamic institutions that can adapt fast and fix their errors rapidly. If we sit around discussing ‘gene drives’ in Brussels committees the way we’ve sat around discussing the ludicrous CAP for fifty years, we are in big trouble. We deserve better and we can do much better than the EU. We need to explain how.