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Cameron and Corbyn will regret ‘Project Nonsense’ if Brexit surge prevails

Cameron and Corbyn will regret ‘Project Nonsense’ if Brexit surge prevails

🕔14.Jun 2016

Barring a sudden reversal of public sentiment and assuming the opinion polls are correct, Britain is on its way out of the European Union, David Cameron may as well pack his bags, and Jeremy Corbyn won’t be in a good place as Labour leader either, writes Paul Dale.

Referendums are uncertain devices, which is why Governments in democracies confident in themselves and their ability to govern only use them as a last resort.

David Cameron heads a Tory administration, but just like the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1975, felt he had no option in order to hold a fractious party together but to consult the people on Europe even though the result of the referendum was never predictable.

Wilson got away with it, largely off the back of a pro-Euro establishment and a Euro-friendly media, and secured a reasonable remain majority. Mr Cameron, it would appear, took the biggest political gamble of his life and will pay the ultimate price if the Brexiteers prevail.

If Britain votes to leave on June 23, Mr Cameron is toast.

I would expect him to resign as Conservative party leader almost immediately and to limp on as prime minister until a successor can be found, with Boris Johnson in a strong position to win the support of Eurosceptic grassroots Tory members and take over and lead our exit negotiations alongside Michael Gove.

Mr Corbyn will face the wrath of a Parliamentary Labour party overwhelmingly committed to Europe. His performance during the referendum campaign has been widely criticised for being mediocre at best, but who can really be surprised if his heart wasn’t in it given his history of opposing Britain’s membership of the EU?

Chamberlain Files editor Kevin Johnson reflects on the campaign and says where he will be marking his cross.

The Conservatives have only a slender House of Commons majority and will be badly damaged by a Leave vote. It is far from certain that Mr Johnson, or Mr Gove, or whoever replaces Mr Cameron will be able to command a majority, which raises the possibility of a snap General Election, if two-thirds of MPs can be persuaded to vote to overturn the fixed parliaments legislation.

It would not be in Labour’s interest to have a General Election if the party does not have a reasonable chance of winning. A rampant right-wing Conservative ‘get out of Europe and take back control’ campaign led by Boris would appeal to the same anti-immigration and anti-establishment bandwagon that is dominating the EU referendum.

Yes, I know that Mr Johnson, Eton and Oxford, is the very epitome of the establishment. His trick, and it is quite an achievement, is to present himself as a radical breath of fresh air and completely different to the straight-laced and cautious politicians we have all become used to.

Mr Corbyn, if he is still the Labour leader by the end of the year, would be ill-equipped to deal with the populist Boris rhetoric, although Prime Minister’s Questions would become cult viewing for all of the wrong reasons.

The likely outcome of a Leave vote therefore is that Britain limps on towards 2020 with a Tory Government without much of a mandate desperately seeking to concoct the least-worst exit package with Brussels against the consequences of Brexit – a sinking pound, rising interest rates and an economy heading back into recession.

What cannot be known at this stage is the reaction of the main EU players, Germany, France and the Benelux countries, to a British exit. Will they, as the Remainers claim, play hardball and insist on all sorts of tough conditions for a trading pact, with free movement of people at the top of the list, or will they be pragmatic and keen to keep Britain in the tent and offer a generous deal?

One thing is certain. Given the complexities of the European Union and the number of member countries involved, exit negotiations will be protracted and messy.

City Council leader John Clancy comments on the impact on Birmingham’s economy from Brexit.

How, then, has it got to this? How did David Cameron and the Remain camp get it so wrong?

Even if, by some miracle, the polls are wrong and Remain wins in the end, just scraping home perhaps, the campaign run by the Prime Minister and his team has been an insult to the intelligence of the British people. To call it Project Fear is to risk verging on over-praise. Project Nonsense would be a better description.

It was right and proper to be open about the economic uncertainties resulting from a vote to leave, but the Remainers have gone overboard with a toxic cocktail of ever more unlikely and faintly hysterical claims about what will happen if we leave Europe ranging from plummeting house prices and more expensive foreign holidays to the demise of the NHS and smaller state pensions.

The Remain campaign has been one of unremitting negativity with any attempt to explain the advantages of remaining in Europe rejected in favour of frightening us into voting to stay in. Too many people have seen through this and do not care to be taken for fools.

Underpinning the whole issue, as anyone living outside of the metropolitan, liberal, London and Home Counties bubble would have spotted straight away, is a widespread scepticism about all-things Brussels among the general population and fears about “uncontrollable” immigration.

Winning a popular vote on the proposition that the EU is a good thing for Britain was never going to be easy. How could it be so when the talk in any pub, club or on the top deck of a bus is at best intense suspicion of and at worst a hearty dislike of the European Union and it’s strange rules on bent cucumbers and obsession with health and safety.

However complex the topic, and the EU is certainly complex, referendums are a snapshot of popular opinion, and it seems pretty clear in which direction this one is heading.

The latest opinion polls, which give the Leave campaign a lead of six to seven points, show there are only two regions where Remain is ahead. These, ominously for Mr Cameron, are London and the south-east.

Immigration has been the running sore of British politics since 1958. It is an issue that both the Conservative and Labour parties tend to approach either by looking in the other direction, or reacting with a knee jerk clamp-down when public opinion reaches a new level of concern.

Free movement of capital and labour is the number one principle of the European Union. If the Remainers in the Conservative and Labour parties thought they could conduct a stay-in campaign without straying into the highly volatile topic of immigration – a subject of great importance to many working class Tory and Labour voters – they were hopelessly naïve.

You can call it a “squalid campaign”, as former Tory Prime Minister John Major did, but the Leave campaign must have known its best bet for success lay in cashing in on fears about “EU migrants taking our jobs”. The Leavers did not have to openly stoke the immigration fires, and generally have not done so, for it was always highly likely that this issue would emerge in a referendum campaign.

Four months ago, on the day that Boris Johnson announced he would campaign for Brexit, I wrote on these pages about being a reluctant European. My heart remains committed to a UK trading pact with the EU rather than political union, but my head tells me the economic turmoil resulting from the vote to leave would be far too great to risk on the toss of a coin.

I shall vote to remain, although I fear the game is up and Britain’s shaky relationship with Europe will come to a shuddering and very messy end on June 23. Hold on to your hats, and invest in gold.

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