If I’d been a top politician or especially a senior civil servant and a strong believer in staying in the EU — that is, one of most of them — I wouldn’t have worried too much about the 52:48 Referendum vote in favour of leaving. It’s not decisive in any legal way.
It can be smudged during the detailed and necessarily protracted negotiations with the EU in which some compromises will have to be made. With sufficient ‘soft’ media briefings to the public over two, three or more years, many Leavers would likely accept a final result that would be far short of what the original Referendum implied. But fudging is not going to be possible now.
About a year ago when David Cameron decided to hold a Referendum, public opinion in favour of the EU was something like 60:40. When the campaign started in earnest, public opinion in favour of remaining was still in the majority — at least 55:45. What reversed this decisively was a serious mistake on the part of the Remainer campaign organisers.
They put on the most intensive political campaign that I have experienced in my lifetime. The number of institutions such as the IMF, OECD, CBI, and one think tank after another was nobody’s business — not to mention the President of America! Papers, publications and learned speeches by economists totally overwhelmed in volume those on the Leaving side by something like 6 to 1 I would judge. It was a veritable tsunami of threats that if we were to leave the EU then the country would be thrown down into long term economic depression.
It was like the ‘Shock and Awe’ onslaught on Iraq all over again but this time at home and in political propaganda terms. The fact that the Leavers stood firm under the clever attack and also that sufficient numbers of swing voters decided they didn’t like the fear tactics means that the moral claim of the resultant 52:48 final vote was a very great deal stronger than it might have been after a more courteous debate.
The result is that, to-date, there hasn’t been the slightest murmur by the Remainers that there is any room for significant compromise during negotiations. Separation will have to follow through definitively. The more the terms are more widely discussed and the deeper that the EU gets into its own intrinsic monetary problems the stronger the case for separation becomes.
When all the negotiations are over, will we reach the “sunlit uplands” that Andrea Leasdsom talked of in her statement of canditature for Tory leadership? Well ,. . . not quite. she must surely have had her tongue in cheek just a little bit. It will still take many years until the country’s value adding industry and services re-orientate themselves to a new pattern of exporting to many more countries outside the EU.