10 things we’ve learnt from the EU Referendum Campaign

'Europe'/ CC
Photograph: 'Europe'/ CC

We’re just 16 days away from the EU referendum, which has been heralded by many as the single biggest issue we are likely to vote on in our lifetimes. With that in mind, just what have we learnt so far in the referendum campaign? You’d be forgiven for thinking the answer is ‘not much’. Either way, today is the deadline to register to vote – you can do so here. A lot of mud has been thrown and personality clashes have appeared between politicians which had previously been the closest of bedfellows. Here’s 10 key points from the campaign so far and what we might see over the next 3 weeks.

1. “Project Fear” assumes many guises

Credit: Herman Van Rompuy
Credit: Herman Van Rompuy

It was perhaps inevitable that this somewhat annoying phrase would return from its roots in the Scottish independence referendum. Indeed, both the “Remain” and “Leave” campaign have been highly guilty of inciting so-called “fear” tactics, yet political history denotes that this is the way through which referenda are most successfully won. We’ve had the Treasury forecasting which has been widely condemned within both camps as inflammatory. Perhaps the most contested figures however are the amount of money the UK sends to the EU each week, with the figure of £350 million emblazoned on the side of the Vote Leave battlebus. This claim has since been debunked by the UK Statistics Authority, who attested the figure was “misleading”.

2. Vote Leave are changing their narrative

Credit: European Parliament
Credit: European Parliament

The “Leave” campaign appears to have lost the argument on the economy, with numerous international financial bodies and experts indicating that Brexit would be damaging (to considerably variable degrees) to the UK economy. It appears that, in light of this, Vote Leave is taking some advice from their friends in UKIP and turning the debate to immigration. The publication of the most recent UK net migration figures did catalyse this trend, yet the rhetoric coming from the leave camp now appears to be much more immigration-heavy. In a remarkable attack, Boris Johnson heralded the latest net migration figures as a “scandalous” government failure. Was this not a government he voted for and was aware the pledge could not be achieved 12 months ago?

3. Whatever the result, Cameron is toast

Credit: Number 10
Credit: Number 10

Dave’s had it. It’s more than ironic that David Cameron promised this referendum in order to win the 2015 general election and now, having won an election he never thought he could, will likely not see the start of 2017 in as Prime Minister. No matter what he or Conservative ministers say, if the UK votes for Brexit on June 23rd, he most likely announce his intention to step down as Prime Minister on June 24th. If, as he hopes, the country votes to stay within the EU, his party is so bitterly divided, even within the Government, that the party will need a new leader to bring the party back together. This might not have been the case if he hadn’t decided to use so many congratulatory figures and tactics throughout the campaign. So, the rumoured Labour voters who are opting for Brexit in order to get rid of Cameron, don’t bother – he’s toast regardless. This also means one more thing: there is a very high chance we will have another general election within the next 12 months in order to give the new Conservative leader a fresh mandate from the people, learning from Gordon Brown’s refusal to do so following Tony Blair’s departure. Enter Boris…

4. Labour has lost its voice 

Credit: Garry Knight
Credit: Garry Knight

Alan Johnson MP is providing a coherent case for remaining within the EU: his appearance on “How Should I Vote?“, the BBC debate with Victoria Derbyshire two weeks ago. Labour supporters are also being vocal both on the doorstep and via social media with their case for remaining within the EU. The question as to whether Johnson’s voice and that of the grassroots is loud enough without significant intervention from the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, to mobilise Labour voters to turn out on June 23rd is rightly being raised. Corbyn himself has just returned from holiday and is speaking at Glastonbury Festival on the day of the referendum result. Presumably he believes there will be little fallout from the vote, yet all indications are to the contrary. Labour voters advocating a remain vote will not thank him should the vote go the other way. The knife draw will be firmly open.

5. Farage could resign… but will he un-resign?

Credit: DonkeyHotey
Credit: DonkeyHotey

Nigel Farage famously resigned following the 2015 general election only to have his resignation subsequently rejected by UKIP’s governing body. In the event of a remain vote, he would surely have to resign again. It would be unbelievable if he failed to resign following this vote, though if one thing is clear about Mr. Farage it’s that he’s a highly unpredictable character. Farage’s buy cheapest keflex resignation would pave the way for a fresh face to lead UKIP. The bookie’s favourite is currently Suzanne Evans, a highly credible politician and media performer, yet being as she is currently suspended from the party, this prospect appears less likely. Other contenders include Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, and Stephen Woolfe, the party’s immigration spokesman. Interestingly, the bookies currently have several Conservative MPs in the running for the top job – could the wake of the referendum bring further Conservative defections to UKIP, given the apparent contempt with which Cameron has treated many of his backbench MPs throughout this campaign? Bill Cash MP is, at the time of writing, listed as 12-1. It would be remarkable should such a senior Tory choose to change ranks.

6. TV debates could help to clear the logjam

Credit: William Hingley
Credit: William Hingley

The first couple of TV debates have been mixed. We first had the Victoria Derbyshire “How Should I Vote?” programme aimed at addressing the views of younger people which added little to the overall campaign rhetoric. Since then, we’ve had Sky News’ “EU: In or Out” programmes featuring David Cameron and Michael Gove. These two debates proved more interesting. Gove had his first outing in a prime-time debate, proving his worth in Vote Leave. Gove provided a passionate and optimistic view of what life would look like outside the EU, albeit with a clear lack of economic foundation. Cameron, on the other hand, was tested on his record as Prime Minister in places; something which could clearly work against him if voters opt to cast their ballot on this basis.

7. The polls are pointless

General elections happen at least every five years, yet the majority of pollsters failed to predict the outcome in 2015. There is no precedent for this referendum. All polls typically indicate a high level of undecided voters within their polling statistics which means we cannot infer which way these swing-voters will go. The electorate is typically more likely to vote for the status quo in referenda, but has the Cameron-led campaign inspired enough of those towards the left or younger end of the political spectrum to turn out to vote? It appears that voter demographics and turnout will be key in determining the result of this referendum.

8. Division on this issue is starting to hit real people

I was on the tube in London last week for Sky’s debate with Michael Gove and was sat opposite a group of Polish men. Two seats away from these men was sat a middle-aged English gentleman with a ‘Vote Leave’ badge on is lapel. As the tube began to empty I saw one of the Polish men tap another on the shoulder and point him in the direction of the badge. The men all began to notice the badge and looked concerned. This concern didn’t seem to be anger but more a disappointment in the other man. Scenes like this highlight the pertinence of immigration within this primarily constitutional debate. Much work will have to be done in the aftermath of the vote to ensure communities do not remain permanently divided.

9. The SNP are partial to their own “Project Fear”

Both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have indicated that a “remain” vote in Scotland and a “Leave” vote for the UK overall would trigger a second independence referendum. Despite claiming after the 2014 referendum that the subject had been settled “for a generation”, the SNP appear to be encouraging voters to remain within the EU using this tactic. This could prove not only useful in Scotland but also within the wider UK, given the fear campaign waged by David Cameron and much of the right-wing press against the prospect of a Miliband-SNP government. Hypocrisy is an understatement. Would Newcastle be entitled to an independence referendum if it votes a different way to the rest of the UK? Also, has anyone shown the SNP the oil price recently? 

10. The campaign will not stop on June 23rd

Remain or Leave, the UK is poised to make this difficult decision. The question as to how different the political make-up of the UK and the wider EU will be after June 23rd remains the greatest uncertainty. Although many key figures on both sides of the debate have claimed that the result of the referendum will have to be accepted, it’s likely that this will not be the last we hear about the EU debate. Will UKIP observe a significant poll boost in the event of a remain vote in the same fashion the SNP did following the referendum on Scottish independence? For those of you growing tired of this pretty relentless campaign, this could just be the start of a much wider moment should the outcome be indecisive. Either way, we’re probably going to be seeing a whole lot more of this man…


Credit: BackBoris2012 Campaign Team
Credit: BackBoris2012 Campaign Team

For more updates on the EU referendum, you can follow us on Twitter, @DarrowUK.


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William Hingley 9 Articles
William is a Geography graduate at Aberystwyth University, currently studying for an MA in Regional and Environmental Policy. Will is also a passionate environmentalist with a keen interest in UK political affairs.

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