The EU referendum is a race against time
The longer we have to wait for the vote, the harder it will be to convince the public to stay in
By Michael Fabricant
It is becoming a race against time.
The publication of "Change or Go" by Business for Britain earlier this week is a game changer for those of us who believe that Britain is better off out of the European Union.
Up until now, the Out message of the EU campaign has been negative and divisive and Number 10 has had it all its own way. Business for Britain?s 1,000 page analysis of the consequences of Brexit demonstrates that not only could the UK survive leaving the EU, but it would thrive: the City would barely notice that we’d left and families would be around ?1000 better off each year.
Still, the Outters have a mountain to climb. Just a few days ago, an Ipsos MORI poll ? if you believe any poll since May 7 ? reported that 66 per cent would vote to stay in the EU and only 22 per cent would vote to leave.
David Cameron and Philip Hammond have consistently said over recent weeks that the EU Referendum will be held by end of 2017 or ?as soon as negotiations are completed?. And there is growing evidence to suggest that the Referendum will be staged next year.
This has become a race against time between Number 10 and the Outters.
The Prime Minister knows that the Outters need to organise, to find credible and articulate spokesmen and women, develop a positive and optimistic message and address fears that Brexit will adversely affect family incomes.
But with instability in the eurozone, the business and economic climate is rapidly changing too. And Number 10 knows it is not necessarily for the better.
Brexit is now firmly on the business agenda. As the report put it: ?Britain used to be the ?Sick Man of Europe? ? but now Europe is the ?Sick Man of the World?. Structural reforms are therefore urgently needed in Europe.?
And the outlook for the EU remains tough. As a trading bloc, it is in decline compared with others. Whether Greece remains in the eurozone for the time being or not, the crises will continue and Portugal could be next.
So both the Government and Outters know that the sooner the EU Referendum is held, the greater the likelihood of an In vote.
Fortunately for the Outters, Eurosceptic Members of Parliament are beginning to realise this too and, critically, that the choice of people to front the Out campaign and its message will be crucial.
A Eurosceptic colleague recently said to me that ?the economic argument will be the key to this campaign. Persuading people that we face a bright future outside the sclerotic EU, and that foreign investors will not transfer their jobs to the continent, will be the principal challenge. But immigration and who governs us are issues we should not ignore?.
And big business too understands that the world is changing ? and fast.
A few weeks ago, I asked a director of a major car manufacturer in the UK what his private thoughts were about Brexit. He was surprisingly relaxed. He pointed out that the UK is a net importer of cars from the EU so he didn?t think it would be in anyone?s interest to set up trade barriers. And as for having no influence on EU regulations if we leave, he laughed saying that we have little influence anyway and, besides, US standards are higher.
With the balance of trade in goods in 2014 being over ?78 billion in favour of the rest of the EU, we have a whopping bargaining chip.
Out of the EU, Britain would be free to negotiate beneficial trade deals with other nations. The EU, which includes very low wage economies, is less able to do so as evidenced by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which is good, but could be so much better.
The odds are currently against the Outters, but as time passes, and economic storm clouds gather over continental Europe, the odds will even. With Business for Britain?s help, the Outters might just win.