Every Friday during the EU referendum campaign, we will be asking our panel of four undecided voters for their verdict on how the previous week’s campaign has gone. Here is their final verdict:
Farage as Drake, sailing up the Thames to confront Bob Geldof’s invading armada, feels a long time ago. A murder has reminded us of our vulnerability as individuals: individuals who join together as communities, and protect each other through liberal democracy.
Yes, we face a divisive question. But moral and intellectual integrity exists — in places — within both campaigns; responsible decision-making is the sole property of neither. And yes, it is a binary question. But people are interpreting it in different ways; we are using different measures on which to judge our responses. Therefore, how can there be an overall objectively ‘correct’ answer? This is not about picking a team of representatives; it is not a general election. Rather, our choice will set a framework for future governments.
Politicians don’t have a blank slate on which to play out neat thought experiments. Yet there must be times when principle comes above net economic benefit. Our decision will affect not just us, but the rest of Europe, too; being able to make such a decision is an opportunity that only we have, in our position of relative strength. In or out, Britain will help its neighbours — out of choice, or perhaps obligation. And European respect and collaboration do not depend on the EU, no matter how tied up in it we are, or how much we believe in the ideals on which it was based.
Most of us think the EU needs serious change; many of us think that serious change is unlikely to come without a new beginning, and that structural collapse is imminent. Some of us think that — while modern life calls for updated forms of international interaction — governance is still best justified, and we are best represented, by the social contract we enter into with our historically-unified nation state. Vote-wise, what will take us in the right direction? How can we possibly know now, when, whichever decision we make tomorrow, it will continue to be acted upon in the future, by people who may have different priorities from us?
My conclusion is that I can only vote on whether, on my terms, I consider the EU to be — as it is now, and seems most likely to become — good, or not.
Verdict: Win for neither campaign, but I’m voting to leave.
Conservative Leavers describe themselves as visionaries who have run a faultlessly optimistic and patriotic campaign. They’re right and that’s why I have to vote Remain. Patriotic optimism is a delightful personal quality but as a basis to policy it scares me.
Often Leave’s economic case merely amounts to implying Britain is heavy enough to defy economic gravity.
Whether we’re just inside Europe or just outside, we’ll have to find some sort of accommodation. We need to ask ourselves if our next deal would be better or worse. Leave’s response is characteristically optimistic. They give patriotic speeches and recite statistics intended to convey the voluminous majesty of British industrial output. Surely, they ask charmingly, no one would wish to harm so beautiful a country as ours?
By contrast whilst Remain’s messaging has occasionally been hyperbolic, their basic claim that European economic rivals would offer us a poor deal on services seems highly plausible.
Parts of Leave’s vision feel only tangentially related to Europe. Through sheer force of longing, Brexit has become seen a catalyst for closer ties with the Commonwealth and a 21st century British Renaissance. Unfortunately we can’t undo the second half of the twentieth century merely by voting to condemn it.
Whilst there is cause for concern about Europe’s trajectory, I don’t think the situation is quite as bad as Leave claim. We have a veto and the current model of a two-track Europe will persist. Turkey will not join. On balance Europe’s threat to our nationhood is not large enough to justify playing economic Russian roulette by leaving. Whilst the balance may well shift we can reconsider our status later. We’re not about to run out of referendums.
Verdict: We all want to Brexit but unfortunately I going to have to restrain myself and vote Remain.
Voters are threatened with a punitive budget and told that anyone who votes to leave is uncaring and intolerant. The fear-mongering, alongside my belief in and optimism for this country, lead me to the point where I will be voting to leave.
Of course exiting the EU is a risk. But so is staying. Remain frequently remind us that 50 per cent of our trade is with the EU. We cannot predict what our own economy is going to do in the long term, never mind how the various economies in the EU are going to perform. That dependency poses a huge risk.
One thing continued to worry me throughout this campaign. Many millions of people will vote to leave on the premise that we will be reducing immigration. There is a gulf between the lower-levels that the British people want compared to the higher levels that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (and most of the remain lot) would be happy to see. The result, which Clare Foges in The Times and Polly Toynbee in The Guardian have written about, is that the public’s view of politicians is only going to get worse and there will be greater public dissatisfaction with current levels of immigration. Remaining will only maintain the problems Government faces with controlling immigration. There must be a proactive campaign across Government to explain the benefits of immigration, whilst drafting legislation that gives voters confidence that arrangements are in place to stop people taking advantage of the system – whether inside or outside the EU.
This referendum has proven to be an unwelcome distraction for the Government and the campaign has damaged the Tory Party. Watching the news and reading the papers it has felt at times as though we are the only party involved in the referendum and the party’s divisions have been played out across front pages of the press and on TV for too long. Were it not for the low-likelihood of Labour winning an election and that the next election is (at the moment) in 2020, we would have to worry about our chances.
Verdict: I think Leave had the better campaign but I think that Remain will win narrowly.
Into the final fortnight as passions grew higher, a campaign which had never been adequately grounded in fact on either side completely lost touch with reality.
For the worst scaremonger it is difficult to top Donald Tusk’s suggestion Brexit might start a process leading to the end of Western Civilisation.
However, much of what some Leavers have said about migration in general and Turkey in particular has been light-years from the truth and often divisive and ugly.
Then came Thursday’s ghastly murder. Terrible as this was, both campaigns reacted with dignity and restraint which did them credit. The vast majority on both sides recognised that everyone was horrified by this crime and the only person responsible was the murderer. There is hardly a country in the world where politicians would have made less attempt to score points from the tragedy than ours did in Britain.
This vote is not a choice between “freedom and serfdom” or prosperity and ruin. There are arguments on both sides. Most remainers are patriots who believe in Britain, most leavers are not racists or xenophobes.
Agonising about how to vote, I first considered economics. Financial market movements, knocking billions off shares and pension fund values whenever “Leave” rose in the polls, prove beyond reasonable doubt the overwhelming majority of economists are right to argue the uncertainty of Brexit would impose a significant cost to Britain, at least in the short term. Leave’s failure to spell out clearly what UK policy should be if they win would make this worse.
Legitimate concerns about immigration must be addressed whoever wins, but neither side and no party has a practical plan to do it. The only rational part of Leave’s immigration argument is their criticism of Remain. Brexit would get the UK nowhere near the “tens of thousands” immigration target when the majority of net migration, and double that target, is coming from non-EU countries. And It’s utter nonsense promising simultaneously to “take control” of our borders but no controls on the border in Ireland.
Verdict: On balance I’m voting Remain. But whoever wins, we must all accept the verdict of the British people and come together to make it work.