EU Referendum: Wise Warning or Dossier of Doom?

24 May 2016

With just a month to go before the fateful day, Monday saw Chancellor George Osborne take centre stage in the EU Referendum debate once more, as he delivered a setpiece speech designed to accompany a new piece of Treasury analysis on the potential consequences of Brexit.

Designed to complement an earlier report on the long-term impact of leaving, this new document was created to issue a stark warning concerning the short-term prospects should Britain vote “Leave” on 23 June.

Writing that morning in the Telegraph, the Chancellor and Prime Minister David Cameron invoked the ghost of their hero Margaret Thatcher as they highlighted the dangers of turning one’s back on the “largest marketplace in the world”, as shaped by the late Baroness.

“[Not] a conspiracy, but a consensus”

Addressing the anti-establishment tone of their critics, the leaders insisted that the backing of many important economic experts and world leaders for the Remain side was “[not] a conspiracy, but a consensus”.

In yet another televised political address of the kind that has become popular in recent years, the Chancellor appeared alongside the Prime Minister amidst a crowd of activists and retail workers, whose DIY focus he would later reference by way of a rhetorical flourish.

Indeed, the picture, staged at the Hampshire headquarters of B&Q, appeared to have been designed as visual confirmation of his high-profile 2015 Conference declaration: “We are the builders”.

Mr Osborne’s speech played on some of the classic campaigning themes raised successfully by the Conservatives during last year’s General Election campaign, drawing a direct line between his much-vaunted “long-term economic plan” and the country’s post-Referendum economic fortunes.

Almost imploringly, he drew the population into his community of hard-toiling strivers for fiscal rectitude, declaring: “The British people have worked so hard to get our country back on track. Do we want to throw it all away?”

“Get our country back”

For some of his opponents, it was less a matter of “[getting] our country back on track”, and more about “[getting] our country back”. As the Chancellor took centre stage in the theatrics of Government messaging, iconic Brexiteer Nigel Farage was meeting his own public in Dagenham, where he stopped for pie and mash as part of his travels with the purple slogan-emblazened “Brexit Bus”.

This was not the only alliterative Eurosceptic vehicle on the move today, as Mr Farage’s official rivals at Vote Leave brought York to a temporary standstill with their own bright red “Battle Bus”.

With such energetic campaigning clamour ranged against the might of sober officialdom, the dividing lines in the Referendum campaign appear to be emerging between heart and head. Though the Stronger In campaign has taken an upbeat tone, its arguments have thus far unmistakably smacked of sense, rather than emotion.

The latest document to speculate about the UK’s go-it-alone prospects under the banner of the Treasury presented a further salvo of doom. It predicted a toxic combination of recession, higher unemployment, falling real wages, higher inflation, a weakened currency, dropping house prices and increased public borrowing.

The response from the Out camp was a furious one, with Brexiteers pulling out their own answer to the pomp of Treasury authority by inviting a familiar face of authority to comment. Former Chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby offered a high-profile dismissal of the document, declaring that its authors had been called upon to “prostitute themselves”.

"Fear-based campaigning"

Equally scornful of the dossier, but from an entirely different perspective, was Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who despite her pro-EU stance could not resist condemning “that kind of fear-based campaigning”. She lamented that the Remain camp did not present a more positive vision of the Britain it wanted to see.

Perhaps it is merely a consequence of advocating the status quo, but the central political thrust of Stronger In appears consistent in its tested tactic of stern deterrence.

For the coming month, the question on everyone’s lips will be whose vision resounds more powerfully: a rag-tag band of rival radicals with an eye on recapturing something ostensibly lost, or a man with a long-term political plan and an imagined catalogue of financial calamities.

Anna Haswell, Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer
Anna Haswell
Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer

As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.