We are told by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that leaving the EU would be a disaster for the nation on every front – supposedly being outside the EU would threaten our security, our economy, our NHS and all manner of other things.
And yet, that hasn’t always been their view. Before and during the renegotiation with the EU, they were happy to regularly suggest that if Brussels failed to meet their demands, then they “ruled nothing out”, ie they might be willing to support a Leave vote. Doing so wasn’t a one-off slip of the tongue, it was a deliberate message, communicated for over a year on television, in print and in front of Select Committees. Here are seven examples of when Cameron or Osborne said it:
Cameron on 3rd January 2015:
‘The Prime Minister – marking the effective start of the General Election campaign with an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday – declared just days before a meeting in London with German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘If I don’t get what is needed I rule nothing out.’’
Cameron on 8th June 2015:
‘Mr Cameron on Monday said that he would “rule nothing out” in what appeared to be a message to eurosceptic Tories that he could still consider campaigning for Britain to leave the EU.’
Cameron speaking to Andrew Marr on 4th October 2015:
“If I don’t get what I want, then I rule nothing out.”
Osborne on 3rd November 2015:
‘Asked if he could imaging [sic] calling for the UK to leave the EU, if he did not get what he wanted, he said: “We don’t rule anything out.”‘
Cameron on 8th November 2015:
“If we can’t reach such an agreement, and if Britain’s concerns were to be met with a deaf ear, which I do not believe will happen, then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us. As I have said before – I rule nothing out.”
Osborne on 1st December 2015:
“We choose our language carefully. We have said that we rule nothing out. If you rule nothing out, you rule nothing out.”
And Cameron on 3rd February 2016:
“Let me say again, if we can’t secure these changes I rule nothing out.”
It was a clear message that if the Government’s demands weren’t met, they were willing to back Leaving the EU. (Of course, they weren’t in fact met – even the limited manifesto commitments made a year ago were far tougher than the eventual deal which was delivered.)
But leave the eventual deal aside for a moment. What were Cameron and Osborne saying in all those quotes listed above? That if the EU didn’t agree to some small changes on welfare rules, they would be willing to consider leaving.
Surely they would never have done so over a relatively small issue if the reality of Brexit was as disastrous as they now suggest? Nothing has changed to suddenly make Leaving a drastically worse prospect than it was a few months ago – their past comments make today’s claims ring hollow.