The In campaign believe that they win when the referendum debate is focused on the economy. So, today George Osborne and Alistair Darling are outlining a deliberately provocative post-Brexit emergency Budget. It is stuffed full of horrors: a 2p rise in the basic rate of income tax, a 3p rise in the higher rate and cuts to the NHS budget to name but a few. The plan is clear, to get the economy and the supposed effects on the public finances of Brexit to the top of the agenda.
Now, as Fraser and Jonathan Portes have pointed out these aren’t the kind of measures that a government would actually enact in the case of Brexit. But this move is designed to help get the Remain campaign over the line, and nothing else.
Brexit backing Tory MPs are furious about this. 57 of them have already gone on the record to say that they wouldn’t vote for this Budget; and this 57 isn’t just made up of the usual suspects. They point out that the Tory manifesto promised a referendum and so all manifesto promises should be compatible with either referendum result. They also mutter that Osborne is deliberately trying to heighten market anxiety in the hope that this will scare voters.
The fury with Osborne among those I have spoken to this morning is intense. One Tory MP who had desperately hoped that Humpty Dumpty could be put back together again after the referendum texted to say, ‘Well there goes any hope of a post referendum reconciliation. A brutal and attritional period of warfare will shortly ensue.’ Osborne himself, who is passionate about staying in the EU, has made himself the principal target of this anger with this gambit.
The question now, though, is what do the voters make of all this? Does this stuff give them pause about backing Brexit? Or, do they think it is scaremongering and a crass attempt to bully them into voting Remain? I suspect that the longer we are talking about this supposed Budget, the happier the Remain campaign will be even if in the medium term is doing deep and lasting damage to the Tory party.