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James Millar: EU referendum is too important to be treated like a game

David Cameron (PA)
David Cameron (PA)

David Cameron’s won two general elections and two referendums to date because he knows how to campaign.

So his efforts on the EU referendum are worth watching both for what he does and doesn’t say.

Despite drama in Brussels last month as Cameron – apparently fuelled by nothing but industrial quantities of Haribo sweets if the snouts round the negotiating table are to be believed – achieved his goal of a new relationship with the EU he’s hardly mentioned the terms since.

It was, quite clearly, a charade.

A bit of flim flam to allow him to campaign to remain but also to claim he was not simply in favour of the EU as we know it.

For the coming referendum is about far bigger issues than whether migrants can claim benefits after four or five years. Or indeed about the future of the Tory party.

It is about Britain’s economy, security and role in the world.

Labour party apparatchiks have dreamed up a pithy acronym for what’s at stake – JIGSI stands for jobs, investment, growth, security, influence in the world.

Labour’s position is that all those issues are better if we’re in the EU. Others argue that, being shackled to an ailing institution holds us back on all five fronts. Everyone can agree that the instruction to Labour spin doctors to drum the message into their shadow ministers’ brains by singing “Getting jigsi with it” to the tune of  rapper Will Smith’s 1990s hit “Getting jiggy with it” is utterly silly.

And people wonder why Labour can’t get in the game when it comes to the EU debate.

David Cameron is looking to lead that debate with facts and authority.

That’s why, when speaking to The Sunday Post, he flagged up the Bank of England’s role this week, expected to be a boost for In campaigners recently dubbed Remainians by arch-Outer Liam Fox.

Governor Mark Carney proved a powerful ally in the Scottish independence referendum campaign.

Carney would claim he stuck calmly to the facts but his scepticism about SNP plans to share the pound even if Scotland left the UK drove a stake through the heart of the policy and the independence prospectus.

Cameron’s hoping Carney will come good for him again this week.

For the question that the Brexiteers have yet to answer satisfactorily is: what would Out look like? What would the UK’s relationship with the EU be like if we left? What would be the impact on our economy and security?

Part of the problem is that the various leave groups can’t agree an answer. Which suggests there isn’t one, but they daren’t admit that leaving leads to uncertainty for fear of scaring the voters.

The Government’s latest paper offered some options, all seen by No.10 as unsavoury to some degree.

Outer Iain Duncan Smith dismissed the document as a “dodgy dossier”. This is a bit rich given the number of times his Work and Pensions department has been rapped for misreporting statistics.

Cameron’s attempts to inject some authority into the argument are welcome.

When Sir Stuart Rose, leader of the official In campaign, last week told a committee of MPs leaving the EU could force wages up it was seized upon as a gaffe instead of prompting any sensible discussion about what he was saying.

For far too many of Cameron’s colleagues and Conservative commentators the entire EU referendum is an exercise in party navel-gazing that pits Inny against Outy, a bizarre beauty contest for the leadership featuring Boris Johnson and George Osborne.

Ordinary voters must weigh up stuff like the security of their jobs and their families if Britain stays or leaves. That’s more important than the job security of the likes of Michael Gove.

And that’s why, whether Remainian or Brexiteer, Cameron’s approach ought to be applauded.


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