Sunday, 26 June 2016

A debate we cannot afford to lose

On polling day I wrote an excoriating piece about the leave campaign in the full expectation that we were going to be trounced. So there is some egg on my face. But the pitch was about right. It was broadly assumed that Leave was not going to win and on the basis of the main campaigns it certainly didn't deserve to for all the reasons I outlined.

But looking at the reasons why we won I would say Vote Leave and Leave.Eu are the main reason we didn't do better. The BBC have interpreted this result as an anti-immigration vote. It isn't. What it looks like to me is is a two fingered salute to London. Leave didn't win it. Remain lost it. We saw repeated efforts to bully and scare the public and insult their intelligence. This vote was not an endorsement of Vote Leave, Boris Johnson and the Leave bunch. It was always going to be an estimation of which campaign was the least repellent.

In this both sides were equally repellent for the most part and most leavers I know were deeply upset by the shape the leave campaign was taking. In was an obstacle in convincing all of the moderate swing voters I spoke to. They agreed with my arguments but voted remain in fear that the Brexit agenda would be steered by Gove and Ukip. That is not an unreasonable position having seen multiple flat rejections of the single market. Had we been able to secure the liberal and moderate vote there would have been a far wider swing against the EU.

If the lesson the establishment took from this is that we are all a bunch of slobbering nativist xenophobes then they are wrong. In the end it was lost by a remain campaign which demonstrated its contempt for ordinary people. There was only one answer to that. And so Vote Leave nor Ukip can take the credit. They are just as guilty of the same contempt in expecting the public to believe that £350m a week would be redirected into the NHS along with all the baseless scaremongering.

And now, having done so, there are attempts to hold the leave campaign to those false promises and that is creating problems for us already, not least with challenges to the legitimacy of the result. Moreover, the lack of a plan has contributed to the uncertainty with even basic questions still going unanswered. So in that regard Vote Leave have recklessly endangered the economy and risk souring the public mood. It also puts negotiations in danger if the government takes the vote as an instruction to close down freedom of movement.

The lack of a plan has contributed to an ideas vacuum and now we urgently need to continue the campaign to ensure that the nihilistic Vote Leave bunch do not get their way. The very idea of Gove, advised by Dominic Cummings, in the Brexit negotiations is a horrifying thought. That is why this coming debate is even more important that the referendum campaign itself.

Hitherto now I have used the EEA/Efta route as a shorthand for our preferred option, but we do not know for a fact if that will be available to us. Our train of thought, following the logic of the political realities, leads us to believe that is the safest and most likely outcome, but if there is mounting pressure to control immigration then there may yet be complications - even though Efta gives us more control than we have now and more than is commonly thought.

That is why I am now changing tack to force the issue of Flexcit. Up to now I have been thankful and grateful to Roland Smith for his work in establishing the EEA option as a viable moderate proposal but pushing that as a basis of a plan is actually quite dangerous. If circumstances change and the logic is wiped out then our whole line of thinking will be disregarded. That is why it is paramount to promote Flexcit because it is written with the risks in mind and has multiple fallback positions. That is what we need to be pushing at opinion formers, and not the largely derivative work appropriated by the Adam Smith Institute.

We are no longer campaigning to leave the EU. We have won that argument. Now we are in a very different game where the outcome depends on presenting as many options as possible with clear pathways available should certain hazards present themselves. That is why only Flexcit will do - and this is now deadly serious. It is a debate we cannot afford to lose.

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