Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is Why Vote Leave.
The EU referendum campaign begins officially today, with the Leave and Remain sides getting official designation and the statutory spending caps coming into effect. Bookies predict that the nation will stick resignedly with the EU, but I’m not so sure. The latest poll, by ICM, shows support for Leave at its highest point since the referendum was called: 45 per cent (up 2 on the previous week) to Remain’s 42 per cent (down 2).
It’s possible, of course, that voters will be cowed by the Government’s £9.3 million propaganda leaflet; or by the IMF which, under Christine Lagarde, has sacrificed every other objective to that of keeping the euro together.
But isn’t it just as likely that people have had enough of being hectored and patronised by quangocrats and Davos Men? The Remain side has just one campaigning technique, namely to chasten us through de-haut-en-bas lectures from grandees. So far, at any rate, there is little sign of it working.
Psephologists generally maintain that, at this stage in a referendum campaign, opinion polls are a poor guide to the eventual outcome. Then again, opinion polls ought accurately to reflect movement up or down, even if their overall level is off. Almost all the polls are now showing a swing to Leave.
The campaign run by Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) is the most Eeyorish I’ve ever come across. It’s not just that the doomsters have nothing positive to say about Britain. They don’t even have anything positive to say about the EU. All their talk of “reform” dried up after the débâcle of the renegotiation, leaving them with just one theme: fear of change. We’ll have migrant camps in Kent! Our scientists will emigrate! We’ll be air-lifting pensioners from the Costa Brava!
The Remain-mongers misunderstand the temper of the British people in three ways. First, we can tell when we’re being taken for fools. Incredible assertions prompt scorn rather than fear. When, for example, we hear Anna Soubry averring that, after independence, our exports to the EU will fall to “almost absolutely zero”, we don’t just disbelieve that claim; we stop listening to anything else she has to say about the EU.
Second, we don’t care for our country being run down. We know that the United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world and the fourth military power, a leading member of the G7 and one of five permanent seat-holders on the UN Security Council. Britain has created more jobs in the past five years – this is a truly extraordinary statistic – than the other 27 EU states put together. We managed pretty successfully for a thousand years before the EU came along, and we bridle at the suggestion that we owe our prosperity to Jean-Claude Juncker.
Third, we remember the early 2000s. We know that the same arguments were trotted out then about the euro – by the same people. Ken Clarke, Richard Branson, Martin Sorrell, Mike Rake, Nick Clegg, Roland Rudd, Peter Mandelson – all assured us that we’d be finished if we kept the pound: investment would dry up and unemployment would rise and blah blah fishcakes. What’s striking is not just that these things didn’t happen; it’s that they happened to the eurozone.
Yet, without a blush, the same hand-wringers trot out the same gloomy prognostications. “We can’t all, and some of us don’t,” said Eeyore. “That’s all there is to it”.
How should the Leave campaign respond? It’s surely obvious. We should match their pessimism with confidence, dispel Project Fear with Project Cheer.
It’s easy to get angry about the EU: the fraud, the waste, the swatting aside of referendums, the Michelin-starred Eurocrats. But anger won’t win us this referendum. We need to hold out the vision of a prosperous Britain, straightening its back after years of bending under the weight of Brussels regulation; of a democratic Britain, in which corporate lobbies are no longer privileged over small firms and consumers; of an independent Britain, trading with its friends and allies while living under its own laws; of a global Britain, interested and involved in the affairs of every continent – including Europe.
Vote Leave will concentrate on the economic, democratic and optimistic case for independence. That’s not to say that people don’t have legitimate concerns about corruption, immigration, terrorism and so on. But reflecting people’s gripes back at them is never enough. We need to offer something better.
Likewise, we must never forget that there are decent and sincere patriots on both sides of this argument – including the leaders of the Remain campaign. Last week, for example, though Leave supporters were fuming about the government’s propaganda leaflet, we defended David Cameron against the outrageous attacks on his personal integrity.
The objection to the EU is not that we are an anxious country, afraid of change. It’s that we are a great country with a global vocation. Far from pining for the 1950s, we reject the EU precisely because it is a relic of that top-down, dirigiste decade. We are driven, not by nostalgia, but by confidence.
Step away from your screen for a moment and look out of the window. See the buds and the blossom. Hear the racket of what our national poet calls “the shrill gorg’d lark”. Sense the pulse of the season. Ours is a blessed country. The best is yet to come.