The choice clarifies more with each passing day. Officially, the Prime Minister’s renegotiation is still underway – but, as Paul wrote yesterday, its demands are vanishing like the Cheshire Cat. Add in the EU’s fundamental inability to loosen its grip on power, and the impossibility of securing the treaty change which is required to cement any meaningful changes, and the choice is clarified. As President Hollande helpfully explained last week, we can either vote Remain to continue down the path of eternal integration, or vote to Leave the EU. Few now expect the renegotiation to fundamentally alter that choice. This is why the Remain and Leave sides are now out of the traps, and the race has begun.
The Remain campaign are committed to staying in the EU even if there is never any reform. In his launch speech this morning, Lord Rose placed great emphasis on the fact that he is a critic of the EU as it is currently formed. That’s fine, but why is he now campaigning to Remain in the EU regardless of whether reform is achieved? In 2013 he wrote to The Times warning that “business faces ever more burdens from Brussels” and calling for fundamental change to preserve “Britain’s prosperity”. Going into a referendum recognising that the EU is costly to the UK economy but also arguing that there is no point at which the costs will get too high to remain a member is a weak position.
“Britain Stronger in Europe” is stuffed full of people who supported joining the Euro. The acronym for the campaign, BSE, is unfortunate – but not as unfortunate as the history of its core members. As this helpful video reminds us, Rudd, Sorrell, Mandelson, the EU-funded European Movement and so on – all urged Britain to join the Single Currency in exactly the same terms they now use to warn against leaving the EU.
As a result, their arguments sound rather tired. Which bit of this hasn’t already been heard and found wanting? Britain has influence in Brussels – well, no actually, Britain has voted against EU measures 72 times and was defeated every time. Britain needs trade – indeed it does, so why hide behind EU trade barriers in the only part of the world market not enjoying growth? Britain needs security – too right…wait a sec, how are we made more secure by a system that means we can’t refuse convicted criminals entry into our country?
Even they don’t seem very confident in their position. Much to the surprise of the assembled lobby journalists and broadcasters at this morning’s launch, the Remain campaign refused to allow questions from the media after the speeches had ended. There was a very soft-soap session in which June Sarpong (Google her) asked questions like whether it is “way too dangerous” to leave the EU, but no opportunity for any real scrutiny. That smacks of a campaign which lacks confidence in the ability of its case and its spokespeople to withstand closer inspection.
There were some hints that the Remain machine could be a bit shaky. On top of that poor judgement about questions from the media, the event featured there were a few hints that the organisation itself isn’t quite up to speed. Lord Rose seemed to be seeing his speech for the first time, stumbling over several lines and at one point declaring that “being in Britain saves every person around £480 million a year” – something which left more than a few people scratching their heads. He also didn’t say the pre-trailed soundbite calling Leave campaigners “quitters” – which raises the question of whether he forgot, whether the press team briefed it out without putting it in the speech or whether Rose refused after seeing it in the papers. These may seem surface details, but they could well be symptoms of a campaign machine that isn’t functioning properly.