Tuesday, 15 March 2016

We all knew it was going to be fear, fear, fear

The Brexit debate has been going on for about four weeks and we have 99 days until the referendum on 23 June.  At this stage—and there’s a long way to go—the outcome appears to be finely balanced but the standard of debate was really been lamentably poor.  In fact, I would suggest, it has yet to have any real impact on the people who will eventually make the decision…you and I.  The debate, such as it is, appears to be based round the principle that when one side says that something will occur, the other side says no it won’t.  So when the Brexits said that our security would be strengthened and that we would be safe out of the EU, those in favour of staying simply said that’s nonsense.  The defence secretary, Michael Fallon, has said the UK will be taking a ‘big gamble’ with its security if it votes to leave the European Union.  However, former defence secretary Liam Fox, a prominent Out campaigner, has condemned the ‘project fear’ tactics of those who suggest leaving the EU could weaken the UK's security and its international standing.

The other strand in the debate is the fear factor and it’s been the dominant theme for the remain campaign. They are not without support from a range of different organisations that are all prepared to stand up and describe Brexit as the constitutional equivalent to the apocalypse.  For instance, If Britain votes to leave the European Union it could have a negative impact on the Nato alliance, a senior US military commander has warned. Lt-Gen Ben Hodges, head of the US Army in Europe, said he was ‘worried’ the EU could unravel just when it needed to stand up to Russia.  He acknowledged the vote was a matter for the British people, but said he was concerned about the outcome. Out campaigners say a leave vote would not affect the UK's position in Nato.  It’s the equivalent of: ‘Yes I know it’s your decision but you’ve been warned…’ Both sides need to become more ‘human’ and stop bellowing at each other about statistics. 

It seems to me that everyone from the US President to the Chinese Premier has an opinion about whether the UK should leave the EU—and that generally means they are in favour of Britain remaining in.  The problem is that their statements do little to enhance the debate; it simply smacks of interference.  It may be interesting to know what Obama thinks about the EU but he doesn’t have a vote and you can well imagine the reaction of Americans to British politicians telling them how they should vote.  The problem at present is that the debate has not really got out of the Westminster bubble…yes, politicians are beginning to canvass on the issue but they have not really begun to engage with the voters.

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