The Corner

National Security & Defense

Brexit: Norwegian Would

Those hoping that Brits will vote on June 23 to quit the EU (‘Brexit’) will be dismayed by a new poll in The Daily Telegraph.

In a nutshell:

The poll finds that men, Tory voters and over-65s are increasingly turning to the pro-EU campaign after previously supporting a Brexit in much larger numbers.


An exclusive poll for The Telegraph today finds that the Remain campaign now has a 13-point lead with just one month until the referendum. The latest ORB poll puts Remain on 55 per cent and Leave trailing on 42 per cent, among people who definitely intend to vote.

There are plenty of explanations for what is going wrong with the Brexit campaign, but now is not the moment for pre-mortems.

It is, however, long past time for Brexiteers to focus on this:

In an analysis of the data, Sir Lynton Crosby, who masterminded the Conservative Party’s general election victory last year, warns that the Leave campaign is “dwindling” and has “failed to quell ongoing concerns about the financial and economic consequences of a Brexit”.

David Cameron’s predictably dishonest ‘Project Fear’ is working predictably well.

The best way to counter it is to show that Brexit is, economically speaking, manageable, and the best way to manage it (there are alternatives) is by joining the European Economic Area—doing a Norway, to use the shorthand. It’s dull, and that’s the point: Dull is reassuring. Signing up for the EEA also recognizes the reality that, after decades of British entanglement with Brussels, leaving the EU is a process, not one bold break, however much romantics might wish otherwise. 

Over at EU Referendum, Richard North has, as I have mentioned before in this Corner, been making this point for years (his EEA-based ‘Flexcit’ plan remains—for anyone who wants to get into the details—an essential read).

Someone else to follow on this is the Adam Smith Institute’s Roland Smith. His ‘Liberal Case for Leave’ is well worth a look (not least for the historical overview it contains).

Don’t be put off by that ‘liberal’. A true Smith, he’s talking classical liberal…..

And when it comes to the practicalities of Brexit, I’d flag this:

The moment of Brexit is therefore a turning-the-ship event; it is not the final destination. Accept that and much else falls into place. One might add that if ‘Leave’ were to win the referendum, it would be the Conservative government (over half of whom are Remainers) advised by the civil service that will manage the aftermath. It will not be the Leave campaign. The method of exit will therefore be evolution – the art of the possible – not revolution.

Talk of evolution is not what the Project Fear-mongers want voters to hear.

I have always thought that Brexiteers would be the underdogs in this referendum. That’s how it has turned out to be, but if those who want out of the EU want to have a shot of winning this thing, they have to show that they have come to grips with the ‘how’ as well as the ‘why’ of Brexit. Their version of ‘how’ will not necessarily be definitive, but the fact that it is being articulated will go quite some way to reassuring an understandably nervous electorate that its concerns are being thought through.

There has plenty of criticism (much of it justified) of the way that Conservative MP and former London mayor Boris Johnson has been presenting the case for Brexit, but the fact remains that he is doing a great deal to keeping the ‘out’ case in the public eye, and (as Mike Smithson of Political Betting, someone who looks very carefully at the polling data, explains) there’s something else:

David Cameron who is fronting the Remain campaign is now seen as the most distrusted UK politician on EU matters…. Whilst Boris Johnson, the front man of the Leave campaign, is seen as the least distrusted UK politician on EU matters.

“Least distrusted”: Good enough!

Smithson writes:

If the opinion polls continue to show that economy is the most important decision influencing voters, and Brexit is seen as being bad financially and economically for individual voters and the country, I expect Remain to win…

Connect the dots: Like it or not, Johnson is the most prominent ‘face’ in the Leave camp.  He needs to start talking about a Brexit route with enough substance to it to reassure the anxious. Arguing that the UK has the economic and political clout to cut a good economic deal with its future former EU partners is not crazy, but it is not enough to convince nervous voters to take the Brexit ramp.  It looks too much like wishful thinking.  And what voters want to hear is evidence of serious thinking.

The Norway option fits the bill. 


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