By GARETH HARDING – BRUSSELS, 29th May
Don’t allow the ‘No’ campaign to turn the European Union referendum vote into a Britain versus Europe thing. Being a member of the EU is in Britain’s national interest and there is no contradiction between being pro-EU and a proud Brit, Scot, Welsh or northern Irish. So drape yourself in the Union Jack, Welsh Dragon or St George or Andrew’s Cross and avoid flying the European flag – which almost nobody has any emotional attachment to. Invoke great Britons like Winston Churchill, one of the EU’s founding fathers who was in favour of what he called a United States of Europe. And never disparage doubters as ‘Little Englanders.’ Most of them are not and you won’t win them over by insulting them and their national pride.
Trumpet British successes
Britain is a force for good in the EU. It has championed some of the EU’s biggest success stories – such as a single market that has made trade cheaper and easier, the smashing of state monopolies that have brought cheaper flights and energy prices and the enlargement of the EU to extend the Union’s zone of peace and prosperity eastwards. It has also successfully fended off pie-in-the-sky proposals – such as common taxation rates and the creation of an EU army – that will never work.
Make the positive, patriotic case for British membership of the EU – we are a stronger, cleaner, richer and more influential country in Europe than out – rather than leading a negative, whiny campaign based on finger-wagging, scaremongering and doomsday scenarios. That didn’t work particularly well in the Scottish independence referendum and it won’t work in 2016 or 2017. Nobody seriously believes the British economy would collapse and its society fall-apart if we left the Union. After all, non-EU countries like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are hardly Hobbesian hellholes wracked by poverty and conflict.
Show me the money
Brits may not feel a strong emotional attachment to the EU but they are pragmatic people. So don’t waste voters’ time by harping on about issues most either can’t relate to (the war), don’t care about (treaty changes) or don’t gain from (roaming charges). Instead, show how Britons directly benefit from EU membership in their daily lives – cheaper, safer holidays and products; cleaner air, rivers and beaches; funding for new roads, bridges and schools; retirement with pensions and healthcare in sunnier EU climes etc. Hammer home the point that Britain is better off as a full member of the world’s biggest trade club and economic power – a point frequently made by our closest ally, the United States.
Don’t feel like you have to justify every stupid EU policy – like the euro or the Common Agricultural Policy. Instead, criticise the EU for its failings, admit it has made mistakes but then argue that it has changed for the better – less money on farm subsidies, fewer unnecessary laws – largely as a result of British membership. Insist on a radical reform of the EU – not as a sop to the UK but because the Union needs to change to survive. Polls show that a vast majority of Brits would vote to stay in a reformed EU so grit your teeth and back David Cameron’s efforts to achieve this.
EU ≠ Superstate
Don’t exaggerate the importance of the EU – as Viviane Reding, Martin Schulz and Jacques Delors have all done in the past, claiming 70-80% of national laws stem from Brussels (the true figure in Britain is less than 15%). Emphasise that the vast majority of decisions that matter to people – whether on schools, hospitals, tax levels or sending soldiers to war – are taken by British politicians in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast not by MEPs or ministers in Belgium.
Not the usual suspects
If you work for the EU, make money feeding off it or profit from trading within a single market, it stands to reason you will be in favour of British membership. That’s why the ‘Yes’ campaign should be wary of stuffing its staff with the usual suspects – think tankers, business leaders, former diplomats, ministers and officials and other professional Europeans. At present, over a third of the Advisory Board of British Influence – a pro-EU lobby group – are Lords, Baronesses, Sirs or Dames. It might help to have some spokespeople who are not starry-eyed EU cheerleaders but simply believe that, on balance, UK membership of the Union is a good thing.
Zip it Jean-Claude
The best contribution the European Commission, parliament and other Brussels institutions can make to the campaign is to make a Trappist vow of silence. Nothing Jean-Claude Juncker or Martin Schulz says will convince Brits to stay in the EU. Indeed it is likely to have the opposite effect. The only comment EU officials should have on the referendum is ‘It’s for the British people to decide,’ not “I don’t understand why someone would want to leave EU” as Commissioner Jyrki Katainen tweeted this week.
Don’t get cocky
Polls currently show a healthy majority in favour of staying in the EU. But they are the highest they have been for over a decade and are likely to narrow as the day of destiny approaches. Remember that at the start of the French referendum campaign on the EU constitution 10 years ago this month, over 70% supported the treaty changes. By the end, 55% voted against, leaving the constitutional project dead in the water.
Hold your nose
You may not support holding an EU referendum. Tough luck. It’s happening. So embrace the chance to have a debate and let people have their say on such an important issue. You also may not like some of the folk campaigning for a “Yes’ vote with you – Cameron, for example. If that’s the case, hold your nose. You can get back to bashing the hell out of each other once the campaign is won.