Sunday, 17 April 2016

A race to the bottom

George Osborne says tonight each household in the UK will suffer if Britain votes to quit the European Union on June 23rd. In 15 years time, outside the EU, the size of the UK's economy will be hit to the extent that every household will be £4,300 poorer than if we vote to keep our membership.

The figure comes from a document which Downing Street calls a "thorough assessment" of the risks of leaving. The Treasury has looked at three scenarios of the UK's future relationship outside the EU: the EEA option like Norway, the bilateral trade option like Canada or the World Trade Organisation rules like Russia and Brazil have with the EU. The £4,300 figure is based on the middle scenario: the bilateral trade deal, similar to the one Canada has recently signed.

This is an own goal scored by Vote Leave by not having a Brexit plan and leaving the field open to speculation. But in this the Treasury is not being honest either in that there is no WTO option. Nor is a Canada style deal likely to be a possibility let alone a deal the UK or the EU would accept. Any government negotiating our exit would want full continuity of the single market. That means we will take the EEA deal warts and all. It's the most probable outcome and to my mind the only likely option that ensures a safe exit for both parties.

As yet I have not seen the government's own estimation of what the EEA option would cost the UK, but we can safely assume it's baloney in that a fifteen year projection makes all kinds of assumptions over factors which are largely unknowable in or out of the EU.

What we can say is that the business environment does not change in any meaningful way by staying in the single market therefore how well we're doing in fifteen years time depends entirely on who is in power and how our own government decides to wield its new found trading agility.

What this does mean for Vote Leave though is that the claims we will save £350m a week go firmly in the bin. So too do many of the peripheral claims made by outers. We have been badly let down by our own side.

In many ways Vote Leave isn't running a campaign at all. They don't have an InFacts style rebuttals unit, they don't have a plan, they don't have a specific position they can push with any credibility and they have no message to speak of. They dash around putting on pointless rallies, which could just as easily be done by Ukip for all the material difference. Boris Johnson is only marginally less offensive than Farage.

What we can say is that we're not getting honesty from the Treasury, David Cameron, Vote Leave or the Remain campaign. In this, I think the public are acutely aware of this hence why there is still no real engagement in the debate. In the end it will come down to which side is the least repellent. In that space race, it seems like both sides are in a race to the bottom.

In a race to the bottom, the government wins. When it comes to a "will-we-won't-we-will-we-save-a-bomb?", there can be no winners, so it ends up a no-score draw and the match goes to the government by default. The only way we can win this is by neutralising the economic issues - taking them out of the battle. Instead, Vote Leave has put them at the centre.

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