Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Juncker?

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, delivered a speech to the European Parliament. on Monday March 12th .When he mentioned that the UK was going to leave the EU on March 29th 2019, some pro-withdrawal UK MEPs started cheering, which led Juncker to add “when you will regret your decision”. It is now over 18 months since the referendum and there is little evidence as yet of any serious voter regret.  Why should things be any different in a year’s time? After all, some of us have spent years, if not decades, campaigning to regain our independence. We’re not going to have second thoughts.

The immediate post-Brexit may be painful at first, particularly if the current muddle in the Government’s Brexit strategy is not resolved, but Brexit is like an operation to remove a malignant tumour – not going through with it would be far worse and lead to certain death.  The pain is a price worth paying.  Mind you, there is no need for the pain to be any greater than necessary. We certainly do not want to find ourselves stuck in a transitional deal on the EU’s current proposed terms which would both cripple our fishing industry  and make it very difficult ever to achieve a full and complete break. Reports that the Government and the EU are close to an agreement are thus a serious cause for concern.

Thankfully, transitional arrangements will only be signed off as part of an overall separation deal and we are still a long way from this being finalised. Our side is still struggling to move beyond soundbytes and wish lists.  Michel Barnier urged Theresa May to speed up the Brexit negotiations and define her vision for the sort of future relationship she wishes our country to have with the EU.  This does beg the question as to whether our team actually realises that the soundbytes and wish lists are nothing more than that. Could it be that, in Mrs May’s eyes, this actually is her vision?

Meanwhile, in spite of the lack of progress, the UK economy continues to defy the doom merchants. There is no question that predictions of economic meltdown before Brexit day have been proved totally and completely wrong. Even Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was uncharacteristically upbeat  in his 2018 spring statement. Annual GDP growth of  1.5% or less in the coming years is not wonderful but it’s heaven compared with the  nightmare scenario portrayed by George Osborne a couple of years back.

Mind you, economic forecasting at the moment is completely pointless until we know  what the route to Brexit will look like. The better-than-expected performance of the UK economy to date does not in any way mean that we are guaranteed to sail out of the EU’s escape hatch in a blaze of glory. M. Barnier is  right – we really must come up with an exit plan that honours the mandate given by the British people on 23rd June 2016 and yet ensures that our businesses can continue to trade reasonably seamlessly with the EU if not on the same terms as before. So far, regrettably, there has been no sign of any coherent plan and the Brexit clock continues to tick. But regret our decision to leave? NEVER.

 

Photo by UE en Perú

Mood Music

To win the referendum for the UK to leave the EU, we will need to battle on a number of different fronts. Some of the crucial issues have been frequently mentioned on this website – the need for a credible exit strategy, the need to ensure our sums are correct and, of course, how to handle the thorny issue of immigration, which can be a bit of a two-edged sword.

One other important but much more “fuzzy” battlefront issue must also be addressed if we are to win – mood music. It is not sufficient merely to offer a series of facts explaining how much better off we would be as a free country; we need to make withdrawal feel good. This all sounds very wishy-washy, but basically, it’s all about soundbytes. Our opponents are past masters of this. When I took part at a debate at Southampton University back in September, one of my abiding recollections was that my principal opponent, Peter Wilding of British Influence, didn’t attempt to rebut my criticisms of the EU but instead made it appear a much safer option to remain.

Our Chairman, Edward Spalton, has also noted the power of mood music. Edward has participated for several years in the CIVITAS programme of information about the EU, speaking to sixth forms in debate with representatives of the European Movement. He used to win every time, usually convincingly. However, around two years ago he had the salutary experience of losing a debate with an MEP who advanced very little of substance except to say “The EU is like a family. Like your own family it’s not perfect but you would be very lonely without it”.

During the recent Council of Ministers meeting, many leading political figures on both sides of the channel have been canvassed for their opinions about Britain leaving the EU and their comments are far more laced with mood music than substantive arguments.

John Major, for instance, claimed that leaving the EU was “dangerous”. That’s very emotive word. What exactly does he mean? What increased dangers will we face? Invaders from Mars? A plague of locusts? He then went on to say that leaving the EU would leave us in “splendid isolation”. Again, a very fuzzy term. From what exactly would we be isolated? We would still be members of the UN, Nato, the Commonwealth, UEFA and countless other international bodies; our airports and seaports wouldn’t suddenly close if we left the EU, our international telephone and railway links would still continue to operate and Dover would still only be 21 miles from Calais. Or does he really mean that withdrawal would usher into power some Kim Jong-Un-like ruler who would close down all contact with the outside world?

Glenis Willmott, a Labour MEP, told the meeting of the European Parliament that she found it “hard to believe” the UK’s “position as a global leader” was “under threat”, adding that she hoped “sanity prevails”. Well cheer up, Mrs Willmott. Regaining our places on the world’s top tables, we will be far more of a global leader than in our present situation, shackled to the EU. As for sanity being the exclusive preserve of the “remain” camp, the very fact that Nick Clegg is included in their number is surely enough to dispel that particular argument!

Frivolity apart, these examples show the potential power of soundbytes. We may dissect them and point out that there is no substance behind them, but we nonetheless have to master these tools and fight back – in other words, to use the soundbyte as well as the detailed economic study and the exit strategy document to counter our opponents. If the remain camp uses fear as a weapon, we must emphasise hope and opportunity. Personally speaking, I find the prospect of withdrawal incredibly exciting. It will be the greatest day in our country’s history since VE and VJ Days, both of which took place over a decade before I was born. People threw street parties to celebrate. Even though I am not much of a party animal, I fully intend that my village will have a party to celebrate independence even if it may fall on my inexperienced shoulders to organise it. But how can I encapsulate that excitement in a few pithy phrases? With the number of meetings and debates about the EU likely to increase during 2016, we will all need to develop our skills when it comes to mood music. We have a much better narrative than our opponents, but style as much as content and passion will determine how persuasively we come across to our audiences.