For many voters – and possibly a deciding number – the EU referendum will come down to an instinctive choice in the polling booth. That isn’t to say the campaigns won’t matter – far from it. In fact, the cumulative details of the Leave and Remain cases will have been on a rolling boil for weeks, leaving each with an associated flavour in voters’ minds. The themes, the key figures and the faces presented by each side will play their part in forming eventual impressions which could well prove decisive in that crucial moment as the pencil hovers over the ballot paper.
This is why the debate over risks is important (as we discussed in our recent series on the Risks of Remain, here, here and here). The pro-EU side of the argument will base their campaign on the deal finalised this week with the European Council – a much-diluted version of the already limited changes which the Prime Minister sought, or “thin gruel, watered down” as Jacob Rees-Mogg succinctly put it.
But what if even that small package of reforms can’t be relied on?
I pointed out more than a week ago that the European Council could sign the deal but couldn’t fully and finally agree it – the European Parliament can still change it later on:
‘…as Guy Verhofstadt said today, then the European Parliament would get to “accept it, to change it, to modify it”. Troublingly, those changes – and the subsequent thrashing out of the precise details of how things like restricting welfare for migrants will probably not be concluded until after a June referendum has taken place.’
Where ConHome leads, others follow (eventually). The Express, Mail and Sun all report today that Downing Street has conceded that, precisely as I warned, the European Parliament can change the package as much as it likes after the referendum has taken place.
This means that the question for voters just got more stark. It’s not only a matter of whether you find the renegotiation package sufficient to justify continued membership of the EU – now it’s a question of whether you find the deal trustworthy. Voters must ask themselves: do I trust a Eurocrats’ promise? Can I trust Brussels to deliver on even this extremely limited agreement – or will they just change their mind as soon as we vote to Remain?
Eurocrats are not renowned for their trustworthiness – indeed, as David Jones reminds us in CityAM this morning, they have decades of form on breaking promises to voters. The safer option is clearly to vote Leave.
The electorate may not trust British politicians much – but I’d bet they trust the sweet nothings uttered by arrogant, distant suits from Brussels a good deal less.