The Electoral Commission will decide on 14th April which campaign group gets the official designation for the Leave side. That decision cannot come a moment too soon. The facts, figures, rational and emotional arguments are all against the Remain campaign. They have spent the days since the curtain came down on the pantomime that was Dave’s Dodgy Deal indulging in increasingly hysterical half-truths and outright lies. Despite this they have one advantage; their focus is solely on making their case, such as it is, for remaining in the EU. Indeed, the “In” campaign never actually stopped after it won the 1975 referendum. We have seen a constant drip, drip, drip of pro-EU propaganda through our media, our schools and our state apparatus ever since.
The Leave campaign by contrast is wasting not an insignificant amount of energy on in-fighting. With one eye on that all-important decision by the Electoral Commission, huge efforts are being made to recruit people to each of the Leave groups. Energy that might otherwise be going into convincing people why we must leave the EU is being used to convince people to sign up to one or other campaign group. Worse, we have the spectacle of key figures, nominally all on the same side, sniping at each other as the groups jockey for position. A field day for an already largely hostile media.
My own preference was for Vote Leave. Their communications and research are excellent, but perhaps I just preferred their style. To win this referendum we need to reach out to those people who would not normally dream of voting UKIP. That means adapting our message. I thought Vote Leave would help to do this, and that it would complement other Leave groups to form a broad church that would speak to the 50+1% that we need.
I had nagging doubts about Vote Leave’s intentions, but I was willing to overlook them. In their excellent communications, Vote Leave always talk about the benefit of a leave vote, not about the benefits of actually leaving. They call repeatedly for people to vote leave, but never for the UK to leave the EU. They never talk about Brexit. They never say we are better off out. Only that we must vote leave. Like Boris in his long-awaited Telegraph column, it is possible to infer that they support a leave vote as a stepping stone to a better deal within the EU.
I convinced myself that I was being too cynical, that this was an acceptable tactic. Much of the general public, even those who have concerns about the EU, are frightened of severing all ties with the EU’s apron strings. We don’t want to frighten the horses. Perhaps this coy refusal to call for the exit was an attempt to reassure wavering voters. I even defended Vote Leave and some of its key figures against those who doubted their intentions.
Then I read one of their briefing documents on what they want to happen after a leave vote.
My nagging doubts solidified. We simply cannot have a “new UK-EU Treaty” following a leave vote. If the British people vote to leave, we must leave. We must negotiate a trade and co-operation deal only. This does not require a new EU Treaty. If the UK leaves so much as a toe in the political union cesspit we will be slowly but surely dragged back in.
Article 50 is the EU’s own procedure for a country to follow when leaving the union, as laid out in the Lisbon Treaty. There are other ways of leaving. We could unilaterally repeal the relevant domestic legislation that signed us up to the EU. But from the EU’s perspective, Article 50 is the only mechanism by which a member state may leave the union. To agree an “alternative path” to Article 50 that is also in the EU’s “interests” means that we do not leave the European Union.
This is a deal breaker for me. I fail to see how any UKIP supporter can back Vote Leave while they hold this position. I can, however, see why a number of fence-sitters and former EU-philes might have been drawn to Vote Leave in recent days. People like Michael Howard are quite open in their belief that a leave vote should be used to get a better deal within the EU.
To some extent that doesn’t matter in the short term. Vote Leave, like UKIP, GO, Leave.eu, and many others will be campaigning for people to vote Leave on the 23rd June. However if they are the lead campaign, and we win the referendum, it seems clear that Vote Leave will start backsliding from 24th June. They will be able to point to their briefing docs which call for a new Treaty, which say an alternative path might be found to invoking Article 50 to leave the EU.
Boris seems to have distanced himself from Vote Leave’s briefing doc. No sooner had the London Mayor filed his Telegraph column laying out his position on the EU, than he too began to get criticism for appearing to back a two referendum strategy. This weekend he clarified his position with an unequivocal “out is out”. Vote Leave need to follow Boris’ example. If not, we can perhaps work alongside them during the campaign, but sooner or later we will have a big problem with Vote Leave.