Cameron Has Just Pissed Off a Lot of Eurosceptics. That’s Why He’ll Win His Referendum

Remember all those promises? Remember David Cameron’s 2013 Bloomberg speech? Remember the idea of treaty change before a plebiscite? Remember when William Hague mocked the very plans his former boss now parades around? Remember all those easy promises from opposition of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, or of being in Europe but not run by it? Happy days, eh?

And the thing is, no matter how much Nigel Farage foams at the mouth, none of it matters. Yes, the prime minister faced the worst press from The Sun, Express and Mail he has received since his re-election. When the final text of the UK/EU deal on the completed renegotiation is published he will face further wails of betrayal and accusations of a sham but all it will do is make his referendum victory sweeter. The British people will - barring accidents - reasonably, pragmatically and with as much information as they can possible have vote to remain inside this insidious economic and political block.

He has bent over backwards to accommodate the Brexiteers demands: he has changed purdah rules, he has changed the question so that ‘Leave’ cannot be negatively conceived (or changed it as much as anyone can). But he will still face calls of foul. If he stuffed ballot boxes with a few million ‘Leave’ votes, he would even then be accused of bias. It is extraordinary that supposedly serious politicians such as Liam Fox are reduced to complaining that sceptical governments are being ‘gagged’. The sense of victimhood is palpable. There is, of course, a solution for these doubters: they could find the courage of their convictions, write a letter to the prime minister and resign from the government to speak out. But they won’t. It is just extraordinary that on an issue of such importance Brexit-inclined ministers are unwilling to put aside their ministerial red boxes. If I owned a chicken suit I would be putting it on now and racing around to Chris Grayling’s office.

For three decades Europe has been the source of all ills. For three decades this moment has been inevitable, but Brexiteers do not have a plan

There is an irony that the ‘Leave’ side talk about Britain taking control of its national destiny - and its borders - but fear the gullibility of British voters. They complain about the referendum timing being too close to council and assembly elections as if poor little voters cannot simultaneously hold two thoughts in their heads. For three decades Europe has been the source of all ills. For three decades this moment has been inevitable, but Brexiteers do not have a plan. They have slogans, yes. And they also have grumbles. But they do not have a winning argument. What is more, they seem content to go on without one. They are bogged down in process issues because there is no theme to their Brexit pudding. This is history and they are flunking it.

People are not mugs. They can be infuriatingly inconsistent, but generally there is some wisdom in crowds. In 2014 the SNP tried to portray independence as an easy option without consequences. 55% of Scots didn’t buy it. For all the hype of the SNP surge they are still not buying it. It is not that leaving the EU is an inherently bad idea - or, for that matter, Scottish independence - it is that those arguing for it are, in the current parlance, “pro cake and pro eating it”. And the ‘Leave’ crowd do not have even an iota of the guile of Scottish 'Yes' campaigners.

The idea that the fifth largest economy in the world would collapse should it chose to leave the European Union is naturally absurd but it is only slightly less ridiculous than the premise that, upon Brexit, the clouds will part, the heavens open and suddenly it will be awfully difficult to find a Polish builder. ‘Europe’ has never made its case but where is the case for why we should now leave? When the referendum campaign finally gets going ‘Remain’ will claim that one million, two million, who knows how many million jobs are reliant on EU membership. Where is Leave’s equivalent?

Like Mark Twain’s death, talk of Tory decline over Europe has been exaggerated

Boris Johnson has been playing games and Theresa May dipped her foot into the outers' camp, but the idea that a Home Secretary who signed up to the European Arrest Warrant would join such an incoherent Brexit campaign was always fanciful. The curious thing about David Cameron’s statement to the House on the Tusk draft was how little opposition he faced from his own party. The whole thing was rather cordial. He, in return, put away his Flashman garb and was full of the milk of human kindness. When your fiercest critic is Jacob Rees-Mogg, you know you are winning. Jeremy Corbyn failed to exploit the potential divisions and the prime minister looked like a man who has within his grasp the ability to lay to rest that festering issue of Europe. Jokers to the left and clowns to the right, no wonder he appeared content. Like Mark Twain’s death, talk of Tory decline over Europe has been exaggerated. The reverse might even be the case.

That Cameron’s renegotiation would cure the EU of all its problems was always unreasonable. There would be compromise. This was always political. Perhaps it was also risky and foolhardy but did he really have any alternative? He has carefully managed expectations and had a little luck. By pissing off his Brexiteers while finding a deal that everyone else - left included - can rally around he has mapped out a potential pathway to victory.

Game, set and match.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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