The recent Survation survey on voting prospects for the European referendum has been discussed in a recent article by Brian Otridge. Brian makes some good points and it’s worth following the link to the Survation report to find out more. It’s a very good report, quite unbiased, and it gives an interesting bird’s-eye view. As it says:
The ‘Yes’ campaign begins with a lead, but this does not mean that attitudes towards the European Union are in general favourable.
Quite clearly they are not favourable. Most of the arguments against EU membership are familiar to voters and they accept them. Only 37% of people would favour joining the EU if we were not already members, compared with 40% who would be against. As the report wisely says:
The entire difference between the current ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ shares reflects a form of status-quo bias. These are people who would not support joining if the UK were not already a member but who may be too afraid of the potentially disruptive risks of ending our membership.
And of course these people have some truth on their side. Leaving will involve problems, especially if the procedure of leaving is to be handled by a government which wishes to maximise rather than minimise the difficulties. Many people may reasonably feel that Brexit can only be wisely handled by a government which has itself campaigned for Brexit and is determined to make it a success. People need to feel confident that their future, at a difficult and complex time, is in the right hands.
But of course that doesn’t actually matter very much, because a ‘No’ vote, if we can get one, is only the beginning; David Cameron is not very likely to take us out, whatever the result of the referendum. The survey did not ask how likely Brexit would be to follow a ‘No’ vote, but probably many people are aware that, with Cameron in power and the EU being what it is, a ‘No’ vote might not be the end of the matter.
Voters should be encouraged to believe this. It helps our case, because although worried about where an actual Brexit might take them, voters need to feel that a protest vote is legitimate and will not irretrievably commit us. It may actually be easier to get a ‘No’ vote now than it will be when there is a UKIP government, when ‘Out’ will truly mean ‘Out’ and voters will know that they will have to live with the results. A protest vote is probably all we can get, at this stage, but it is what we need. And the survey gives some reason to suppose it may be possible to get it. The key is in the word ‘Renegotiation’.
In UKIP we know that Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ is a charade. Of course it is. But 44% of voters either have not yet made up their minds or say that they might change their minds in the event of a successful renegotiation. And what do they want renegotiated?
- 32% want to end the automatic right of all EU citizens to live and work in the UK
- 18% want to restore sovereignty to the UK parliament so that we can make our own laws
- 15% want to lower the cost of membership so the money can be spent at home.
We know that these issues are not negotiable within the existing framework of the EU and Cameron is not even going to try to achieve them. And that’s why UKIP is commencing the ‘Out’ campaign without waiting for the renegotiation. But perhaps we should be careful how we campaign, at this stage. The more we can emphasise those unreasonable but necessary renegotiation requirements, the more of a flop Cameron’s performance will appear when he comes back without having achieved them. If we campaign for ‘No’ simply because we are UKIP and we are against the EU on principle, we may appear not to be giving Cameron a fair chance. It will be too easy to say to us: “You would have wanted leave the EU regardless of the result of the renegotiation.”
Cameron is not going to achieve anything useful in his renegotiating. But he is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and he deserves everybody’s support if he is truly campaigning for what we all want. When he doesn’t get it, we can then profit by the resultant anti-climax. And when the time comes to vote, it would probably be better if most voters felt they were registering a protest rather than making a historic and irreversible decision.