Three ways David Cameron has played a good hand badly on Europe.
Let’s suspend any notion of whether I am for Brexit or against it. The debate is turning into more of Civil War (or perhaps an uncivil war of words) every passing day in the run up to the referendum on 23rd June.
- When Mr Cameron came back from Europe with the (best we can do) deal, he was attacked by Brexiters for the notion that Europe would simply not be bound by it and would refuse to endorse it. Mr Cameron could have lanced the boil in his normal statesmanlike way (suspended for much of the Brexit argument along with collective cabinet responsibility on Europe) by offering Britain a second vote if the EU nations failed to endorse it and failed to introduce a meaningful programme of democratising reforms.
- When Mr Cameron sat in front of his divided cabinet, the right answer was not to give access to data to one side and deny access to civil servants to the other. Mr Cameron should have demanded (probably many months previously) that each side come up with their plans for the country post referendum. We need a plan for Brexit and a plan for Remain. If we Brexit, we need the country to continue to trade and to grow. We need to be ready on day 1 post Brexit and to implicitly have the nation’s backing to a plan. Equally, we need a plan to Remain – how do we bring our nation back together after a bitter war of words (it would have been naïve to assume we would simply agree to disagree, and to debate quietly).
- Finally, Mr Cameron is wrong to countenance inviting the world’s leaders and institutions to make emphasis ones knee-jerk (and rather self-serving) speeches on behalf of the Remain campaign. The damage that will be done by pejorative interference in the UK’s democratic processes may never be fully repaired. The effect on the collective reputations of Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and other evangelists for the status quo could be fatally toxic, and the uncertainty in the UK may be equally bad whether we stay or go. That is all down to the way the Prime Minister’s hand has been played.
Meanwhile, bad data, negative arguments and undemocratic interference all combine to undermine Britain. We will slide as a world power because of the way we are handling this debate and referendum. When there is so little good, real information what does a result one way or the other actually mean? Does a Brexit vote mean we really want out or that we are annoyed by the Remain camp’s tactics? Does a Remain vote mean we really want to stay or that we are terrified we will not be able to trade with the US?
At the time of writing this there are just under 9 weeks to go before we reshape our future one way or another. We know little about the consequences of a vote either way. We cannot expect more of the same if we stay or if we go. We do not know whom to trust. We may toss a coin on the day to decide heart versus head. That is no ringing endorsement for the way the Prime Minister has led us, but neither does it reflect well on Boris Johnson And other Brexiters whose rhetoric has been largely unhelpful to constructive debate.
For voters like me, we are torn between tying ourselves to a table in the dining room on the Titanic and throwing ourselves into the icy water in the Arctic darkness.