One of the ways that Number 10 likes to signal to Westminster that it is taking a situation seriously is to hold a meeting in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. Calling COBRA is a sign that this is a Crisis, and that the Government has got it under control, simply by meeting in a rather dull room.
If the Crisis is a little more serious than all the issues that have summoned COBRA, such as Ash Dieback and horsemeat, then the most important thing that Number 10 can do is call a press conference with the Prime Minister. David Cameron doesn’t do that many press conferences at all, despite promising in Opposition that he would hold a monthly one, and so when he summons hacks to the roof of a hotel at short notice, you know that there is a Crisis that the Prime Minister is taking Very Seriously indeed.
Cameron then proceeded to list six ‘complete untruths to the British people’ that the Leave campaign was guilty of producing. These were that the UK is liable to bail out eurozone countries, that our rebate is at risk, that we have given up our ability to veto EU treaties, that we have no ability to stop EU spending from going up, that we are powerless to stop Britain being forced into an EU army and that we would save £8bn if we left the EU.
Were these untruths really so heinous that he was forced to hold a press conference at short notice? Or was it, as one of the journalists sitting on the roof with the Prime Minister suggested, that the Leave campaign currently had the momentum and the debate was all about immigration, which damages Remain? Cameron replied:
‘Look, I was watching the news last night and it just came over to me so clearly that there is such a contrast between the weight of independent expert opinion that wishes our country well but is giving us an unvarnished view of the decision we could be taking, there’s a massive contrast between that - respected, independent experts warning us about lost jobs, about instability, about a smaller economy, about the effect on our country. The contrast between that and a series of assertions from the Leave campaign that just simply aren’t right…’
So the Crisis was that the Prime Minister had been watching the news last night. And presumably, that he had realised that the debate was indeed not on good turf for Remain, and that the polls were moving in favour of Leave. The onus is now on Remain to change the subject from immigration. Otherwise, Leave believes it has this vote in the bag.