Only fear can keep us in the EU


This article by James Morris, partner and Director of GQR’s London Office, originally appeared in the Times.

It is based a survey conducted for The Fabian Society, with support from the TUC and FEPS. Click here for an interactive portal where you can explore the data and download data tables.

The more people hear about Brexit, the more open they are to the idea. Our recent poll for the Fabian Society showed an initial four point leave for Remain among likely voters turn into a two point lead for Leave, once people had heard both sides of the story.

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We tested the messaging from campaigns on both sides, and found that on issue after issue, the Leave campaigns had more compelling arguments. Even on the economy – widely seen as the strongest suit for the Remain side – the Brexiteers’ case about red-tape and new trade deals outside the EU is powerful and neutralizes the Remain argument.

Leave wins the message battle in every area except one: risk.

The single most compelling thing the Remain camp can do is focus on the uncertainty ahead if Britain votes to leave on June 23rd. Years of turbulence,  where businesses won’t invest, interest rates may have to rise and jobs would be at risk. They don’t need to prove that the EU is a force for good, they don’t even need to prove that leaving would be bad; they just need make sure people are concerned of what might happen. The only way to win is to leave people scared.

Fear is even more important for swing voters in this referendum. By 59 to 31, the soft part of the remain vote says their preference is borne out of worry about what change may bring, rather than positive feeling towards the EU.  While the core leave vote is more motivated by positive feelings towards life outside the EU than concern about remaining inside it, among the soft leave vote, the two emotions are equally important.

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It is going to be hard for the Remain campaign to be as negative as they need to be. They are under constant pressure to make a positive case. There are die-hard pro Europeans who cannot comprehend why others don’t see their viewpoint. After running hard against ‘Project Fear’ in the Scottish referendum, the SNP are resistant to becoming part of a similar project on the EU. No politician ever boosted their popularity by urging greater negativity.

Still, the campaign has no option. The basic problem is that a positive argument has to offer a change for the better. This is difficult for a campaign recommending continuity. Why would staying in the EU, with its unfettered immigration, bureaucracy and waste, lead to a positive change in Britain? ‘David Cameron negotiated a new deal’ is not even close to a credible answer to that question. The only campaign that can offer change for the better is the campaign that is proposing a change in our relationship with Europe.

Aside from focusing on risk, the other thing the Remain campaign needs to do is get better at spiking the other side’s guns. When Remain say the EU is crucial to trade, Leave say that it scuppers trade with the rest of the world. When Remain say the EU arrest warrant is crucial to combating terror, Leave say that EU free movement speeds terrorists to our borders. But, when Leave say that that EU means uncontrolled immigration, Remain have no answer. When Leave say the EU scuppers our sovereignty, again there is no powerful counter-argument.

Remain need to be stronger on the issue of immigration in particular. More than half the electorate says immigration is one of the top issues that will decide their vote in this referendum. They think it is out of control, and has knock on negative effects on our economy and public services as wages are reduced and hospital waiting rooms fill.

If Remain leave immigration and sovereignty as open-goals for the Leave campaign, while the Leave campaign undermine pro-EU economic arguments, Britain is going vote to leave on June 23rd.