By now, we’re all fully familiar with the arguments from both sides. Campaigners to stay in the European Union are offering a stronger economy, more jobs, greater global influence, and improved national security. Campaigners to leave the European Union, meanwhile, are offering… a stronger economy, more jobs, greater global influence, and improved national security.
So as you can see, it’s a pretty straightforward decision.
As political sketch writer for The Daily Telegraph, I’ve been reporting on the build-up to June 23’s referendum almost every day. Yet, even after all this time, it feels as though the debate has never quite captured the public’s imagination. Still, if some voters are finding it hard to know which side to trust, perhaps they can’t be blamed. On several issues, both sides appear to be touting the same benefits. And each time one side highlights a risk posed by voting the opposite way, the other side dismisses it as scaremongering.
Then, of course, there’s the endless tumult over immigration, which may be cut if we leave, although equally it may not, depending on whatever post-Brexit deal we manage to strike with an EU that on the one hand may be desperate to do business with us, or on the other hand may be hell-bent on revenge. In short, as with all else: no one knows.
The rival campaigns do occasionally make a distinctive case. Unfortunately, these sometimes turn out to be less than reliable, and even faintly desperate. Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, tried to argue that we should stay in the EU because “our young people” love Interrailing. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, tried to argue that we should leave the EU because it bans the under-eights from blowing up balloons (it doesn’t).
More and more, I think I would find it refreshing if one side, or ideally both, simply said: “Look. We’ll be straight with you. It’s all just a big guess. Leaving might be a disaster. Staying might be a disaster. Either outcome could make us richer, poorer, or roughly the same. Terrorism? Household incomes? Trade deals? Goodness knows, to be honest. Go with your gut. Although bear in mind that your gut might get it hideously wrong, and condemn you, your children and every succeeding generation of your family to eating out of bins. Just so we’re clear.”