4 Mar 2016

Referendum campaign: I'm angry, and why you should be too

I’ve not been blogging as much as I should have recently. I’ve run into a very busy phase of a project for a global client and the long hours have just left me too tired to blog at night. But compounding that is a cloud of misery hanging overhead, which has been produced by the politicians running amok on both sides of the referendum campaign.

It’s times like this we should remind ourselves why we have so little respect and time for the political class.

On one side we have a group working feverishly to make voters scared of leaving the EU while pretending that remaining in the union will mean things stay as they are today. On the other, we have a group whose sole contribution to the campaign has been to shout the word ‘scaremongering’ in response to every claim made by the remain side, while making absurd assertions about Britain’s trade status after Brexit.

Neither side is giving voters an honest, reasonable, accurate or factual picture. The politicians have turned the referendum campaign into a playground of dishonesty, ignorance, fallacy and delusion. The politicians have welded themselves to arguments and claims that are variously distorted, inaccurate or outdated… sometimes a mix of all three. They repeat mind numbing mantras such as ‘stronger in’ or ‘take control’, but run scared from presenting any vision or plan, because in reality they haven’t got a clue what they are talking about. 

So they continue, stuck in transmit mode, refusing to listen to anyone or anything that doesn't confirm their position or smother them in adoring praise for what they believe to be their statesmanship and superior wisdom. This isn’t serving the interests of the voters, who are hankering for evidence and factual detail on which to base their choice of whether to leave the EU, or remain in it. 

Let’s take just one example of the depressing ignorance of the politicians from this week. On Wednesday, on BBC World at One, Conservative Graham Brady was put head-to-head with Labour’s Jon Ashworth. 

Brady argued we should leave the EU, but also said we should leave the single market (EEA) too because we would need to pay into it and accept freedom of movement of EU citizens. That’s a reasonable position to take, even if I disagree with it. But Brady then underpinned his argument with the illogical claim that because Britain is the fifth biggest economy in the world, we don’t need to be like Norway (in the EEA, not in the EU). Instead, he argues, we can have strike a better trade deal with the EEA than Norway can.

Take a moment to break that down. Brady is saying that as a non-member of the Regional Trading Agreement that the EEA is, Britain can get a better trade deal terms with the EEA than an EEA member country can. It is downright fantasy.

Ashworth, presented with this open goal against his leaver opponent, ignored the point completely. Instead he changed subject and jumped on a recent remain side hobby horse by saying that British expats living and working in the EU, may be forced to leave those countries if we Brexit.

This particular scare story is a complete fallacy. There is established and accepted international law that holds people who have been granted and exercised a right conferred by a treaty, namely being part of the EU with unrestricted right to live and work anywhere within the union, retain that right absolutely even if the treaty is terminated. It is dealt with in the Vienna Convention and is commonly referred to as ‘acquired rights’.

Did Brady seize the chance to set the record straight? Of course not. As much as Ashworth was completely clueless about having a better deal with the EEA than one of its own members can have, Brady was utterly ignorant of acquired rights and its status in international law, missing the opportunity to rebut it. 

How are ordinary voters - who are looking to such exchanges to educate them about what Britain outside the EU means for the country and our citizens abroad - supposed to make an informed decision from such low-grade, ill-informed, fact-free rubbish as that exchange broadcast on the BBC?

Going beyond this, we had a bun fight taking place yesterday about tariffs. The remain side are whining that leaving the EU means goods will be more expensive because tariffs will be applied by the EEA on our exports, and by us on their goods coming in. The leave side argued back that tariffs are only an average of just over 3%, that it’s small beer and not really worth worrying about. 

Both sides are wrong again because of this focus on tariffs and trade. These levy and trade issues are important, but are a minor issue in the overall scheme of things when compared with our future need to cooperate with the EU on inter-agency matters such as medicines, trademarks, aviation safety. Then there’s air traffic control, European single sky, maritime surveillance, Customs, environment, and any number of other areas where the new post-Brexit relationship will require new agreements on coordination and cooperation to be established.

Just a hunch, but I think British holiday makers will be more concerned that we have negotiated effective working partnerships with our neighbours to ensure their flights are routed safely across European airspace, than whether we can knock half a percent off the cost of Spanish oranges. Deals can and would be achieved, but would take time out of the two year Article 50 negotiation period where other things also need to be agreed. But the politicians are so damned superficial, these vital issues and considerations don’t even make it on to their radar, let alone permeate their thick, dogmatic skulls.

I am bloody angry, and you should be too.

We should be bloody angry about the way Cameron on the one hand, and ignorant Parliamentary bench stuffers on the other, are stealing our people’s referendum away from ordinary voters. There is nothing grassroots about the campaigns to date. They are all by politicians, for politicians, with the grassroots asked to clap and cheer them in the right places, and get out and do the donkey work with clipboards and leaflets, while the political star turns waltz in and out of TV and radio studios parading their stupidity.

On the leave side Vote Leave, Leave.EU and Grassroots Out are absolutely nowhere on the important matters I’ve referred to above. Too much of the information they pump out is wrong, even on such matters of record as the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA), which Vote Leave’s Robert Oxley claimed took only a month to negotiate. The negotiations began in 2004, the preamble of the AA was only nailed down in 2012 and it wasn’t until 2014 when the articles were finally agreed. The AA itself has only been partially implemented more than 18 months on. Yet such nonsense as Oxley’s claim was enthusiastically retweeted by politicians and hangers on, corrupting the record and undermining confidence in the leave side by anyone who cared to check the facts.

The campaigns are infested by politicians who have had ideas in their heads for years and have never updated them to keep up with developments during that time. As such they are spreading rubbish, trying to increase their own profile in a referendum of the people that is being held because the matter is of an importance far too great for Parliament to decide.

My final hope for a leave vote, based on accurate information, facts, evidence and honesty, now rests on the broad shoulders of The Leave Alliance. This is a chance to channel the anger into something constructive and positive.

Although it isn’t seeking designation as the official leave campaign, it is the only one on the leave side that has a detailed, researched, tested and validated Brexit plan, which addresses and removes the risks that are being played up by the remain side. It would see Britain leave the EU immediately, to remain part of the EEA after re-joining EFTA, for only a transitional period. With jobs and trade protected within the EEA and no loss of ability to trade or increase in the cost of doing so, Britain would then be able to start the lengthy and painstaking process of negotiating a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU. At the heart of everything The Leave Alliance advocates is the democratic imperative, along with the discipline to present only those things that are realistic and possible in law.

Whether there is time to detoxify the leave side and correct the fallacies of the remain side before 23 June remains to be seen. But at least it is the one group that will try to do things the right way. 

I am giving The Leave Alliance my full support and I hope you will consider doing so too.