This week the Prime Minister devoted a speech to what he regarded as six lies being told by his opponents in the EU referendum campaign. He later confessed that the idea for the speech had come to him while watching the news at 9 p.m. the previous evening. It would have been better if he had contented himself with shouting at the television, rather than adding yet more rancour to what has become a slanging match. Most voters tune into an election campaign only in its final few weeks; those who do so now will find nothing but hysteria, hyperventilation and obloquy. Where, it is often asked, are the facts? If we can distil the arguments down to the most salient points, what are they?
In our cover feature, Matthew Parris and Daniel Hannan, two of the most eloquent voices on each side of the debate, offer six of their best arguments. But the Brexit debate is not a competition to see whose facts are weightier; it’s about whose arguments voters find the most persuasive. Facts can be enlisted for either side. If sterling falls, is that a bad thing? There is no right answer: pricier imports would push up shopping bills, but a softer pound would help our exporters to compete. If house prices were to fall, as the Chancellor says they would after Brexit, would that be a calamity? For those no longer climbing the property ladder, yes. But people priced out of the housing market are praying for a crash.
In most referendums, the status quo usually wins. But this one is so hard to predict because the status quo is not on the ballot paper. Our choice is to stay in an ever-changing EU, or to sever ties with it and see where we end up. No one can predict with certainty what either option would bring. The ability to control our borders is often raised by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, but immigration isn’t even mentioned in Daniel Hannan’s list of reasons to leave the EU. That’s a reminder that Brexit remains many things to its many advocates. To Hannan, it’s mainly about retrieving sovereignty: he isn’t as interested in tighter border controls. And indeed, after Brexit, a new prime minister might decide to retain the free movement of people in return for access to the single market. The new system could be here within two years, or ten. Nobody knows.
The Spectator Podcast
James Forsyth and Christopher Meyer discuss what happens after Brexit:
When economists make guesses they tend to put a decimal point at the end. This campaign has seen a ludicrous number of reports trying to guess the effect of Britain withdrawing from the EU in a decade’s time. Perhaps the single most heroic estimate was from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which said that withdrawing from the EU would leave the average Brit 0.8 per cent worse off by the year 2065. At a time when economists struggle to predict five months ahead, let alone five decades, it is touching that such estimates are still published. This is why the various doom-laden warnings should be taken with a large pinch of salt. If economists were able to see the future, one of them might have predicted the crash of 2007.
So Britain must take a leap on 23 June: either with the EU and wherever it goes next, or into the uncharted world of Brexit. The Spectator’s main concern, through the last few weeks, has been to bring our readers the best arguments from both sides. Next week we will state our own position.
The Spectator Podcast
Christopher Meyer, James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman discuss the first 100 days of Brexit
It could be worse
The EU referendum campaign may be tiresome, but bored British voters should think of those less fortunate than themselves. This year, Americans will be asked to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, two of the most unpopular figures ever to run for the White House. Both are products of America’s unique political system: in theory, anyone in this ingenious country can become President. Britain, on the other hand, must choose its head of government from a tiny selection of MPs.
So why has America’s national political talent hunt failed so abysmally? The answer lies in the selection process, which was bad to start with but has been turned into a year-long freak show by 24-hour news and social media. Only two types of candidates can prosper: ones with the stamina (and personality) of a robot, such as Hillary Clinton, or ones sent out to lodge a protest at the whole system. No one does that more effectively than the egregious Mr Trump.
This is not a sign that America is broken; merely proof that the way the country’s -parties choose their candidates is defective, and needs to be fixed. In the months ahead, both Republicans and Democrats will have to ask themselves how to do so.