The Corner

National Security & Defense

Brexit: Plan? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Plan!

We’ll see in due course what difference Obama’s contribution to Britain’s debate over EU membership (and, in particular, “back of the queue”) will make to the way that voters see the issue. FWIW, I would guess that Obama has (1) annoyed those already inclined towards Brexit, (2) delighted those who want to stick with the EU and (3) slightly increased the nervousness about Brexit’s risks felt by many in the undecided camp.

Nevertheless, it was striking to see the weakness of the response of those (nominally, at least) at the top of the ’official’ Brexit campaign to Obama’s arrival. Rather than take the president on over the issues, the preferred option seems to have been ad hominem attacks and grumbling over the whereabouts of a bust of Churchill, a tack hardly designed to win over the undecided (and it’s the undecided who will decide this vote), or convince them that Brexiteers have thought the reality of Brexit through.

In similar vein, it was depressing to read this in The Spectator by Charles Moore, distinguished journalist, euroskeptic and Thatcher biographer:

The ‘remain’ campaign is having some success with the line that the ‘leave’ camp cannot say what Britain outside the EU would look like. (Nor can the ‘remain’ campaign, of course, though it doesn’t stop it trying.) But it is crucial to the ‘leave’ cause that it resist the temptation to set out a plan.

Eh?

Moore explains:

‘Remain’ wants it to fall into the SNP trap in the Scottish referendum of proposing something which can then be picked apart. There is a cast-iron reason why ‘leave’ cannot do this. Even if we vote to leave, the ‘leave’ campaign, unlike the SNP in the Scottish vote, will not form a government.

Yes and no.

It’s true that the ‘leave’ campaign is not in a position to determine how Britain’s departure from the EU would be negotiated. At the same time, it does need to show that there are Brexit routes and that they can be navigated in a safe and straightforward way.  Many undecided voters, I suspect, have no great love for Brussels, but they are unwilling to take the risk (as they see it) of leaving the EU, a risk that the Bremainers are, naturally enough, playing up.

To that end, Brexiteers need to explain why those risks are far less than the undecideds now fear, and a pretty good way to do it is—smelling salts—a plan.  Brexiteers need to demonstrate not only why Brexit, but how. As it happens, I think that the best way to go is some variant of the ‘Norway option’ via membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). That’s a step that initially would change little (and thus would not alarm the nervous) but over time would make all the difference. If you are interested, go here for a detailed and very well-researched explanation of how it could work (warning: lengthy PDF).

The Norway option is not perfect, but note the use of the word variant: there can be, so to speak, Norways and Norways. To be sure, as Mr. Moore fears, a concrete plan can be attacked, but that’s fine, most of those attacks can be debunked pretty easily – and have been, again and again, if not by the ‘official’ Brexit campaign.  

That’s not to deny that there are other Brexit routes too, but they have to be explained in a way that shows they are workable. A wish, a prayer and talk of the Anglosphere is not enough. 

Mario Cuomo famously said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” There’s a lot to that, but a campaign designed to reassure (as the Brexit campaign must be) will need to include quite a bit of prose too.

Last week Justice Minister Michael Gove, the most impressive member, in many respects, of Prime Minister Cameron’s government, made the case for Brexit, a cause he is supporting at considerable risk to his political career.

The speech was impressive, inspiring even, filled with the poetry, but a touch light on the prose.

Thus:

There is a free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or EU. After we vote to leave we will stay in this zone. The suggestion that Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and the Ukraine would stay part of this free trade area – and Britain would be on the outside with just Belarus – is as credible as Jean-Claude Juncker joining UKIP.

Agreeing to maintain this continental free trade zone is the simple course and emphatically in everyone’s interests.

I know what Gove means, but by putting it that way he left himself open to the smear (duly forthcoming) that in the post-Brexit world, Britain would, in trade terms, fare no better than Albania, or, maybe, would even become Albania…

Ludicrous, of course, but not the mood music of reassurance.

And, nor for that matter, was the appearance by one of the key members of Vote Leave (the official Brexit campaign) before a parliamentary committee last week.  You can watch it for yourself here. It’s not what any Brexiteer wanting to win the campaign should want to see. 

Recent polling evidence suggests that public opinion is moving towards Bremain and away from Brexit. As winning a vote for Brexit was always going to be an uphill struggle, that’s not good news.

Brexiteers need to raise their game. Soon. 

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