Brexit Divisions

Winning the argument for staying in Europe

Those arguing against Brexit will never win by wearing rose-colored glasses. At the same time, those campaigning to leave are hamstrung by an inability to agree on what 'leave' means.

Roland Rudd
8 March 2016

Moyan Brenn/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by)

The choice facing the British public is the biggest in a generation: do we choose to be stronger, with an economy that creates new opportunities and has the power to shape the future, or do we choose to be weaker, less able to influence global developments that risk harming our economy and compromising our safety? It is clear to me that the UK is stronger, safer and better off in Europe than we would be out on our own, and we need to make a positive patriotic case for Britain being stronger by staying in. To make that case, the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign has brought together a coalition of powerful advocates, from business leaders such as Karren Brady to security experts such as Peter Wall, the former head of the British Army. We now need to win the argument across the nation.

The current polls vary widely so no one should underestimate the potential for Britain to choose to leave. Most polls put the number of undecided voters at a fifth of the electorate. With a decision as vital to Britain’s future as this one we cannot be complacent about the campaign and we must ensure we communicate our case with messages that resonate with the British public. You can have a compelling case on paper but if you don’t get the messages right you are unlikely to persuade people to back you.

The case should be built on foundations of realism and pragmatism. No one should overlook the EU’s faults and no one should say it is perfect. However, being in Europe is better for Britain’s economy and influence and will remain so in the future. We must make clear that Britain has the best of both worlds at the moment – out of Schengen and the eurozone, trading with Europe while building prosperous trading relationships with the rest of the world and shaping Europe in our image. We now have a European Commission that, in its vision for Europe, is the closest to what Britain wants: a reform-minded, open Europe committed to free trade. It would be ironic if we chose to leave at a time when the EU is being reformed to make it work better for Britain.

When presenting our case, we can’t ignore the reality that the actual question on the ballot paper is not always the same as the question in voters’ minds. How the referendum is framed is crucial. The SNP nearly succeeded in making the 2014 referendum a vote of no confidence in Westminster. The ‘no to AV’ campaign did succeed in making the 2011 referendum all about coalitions, perceptions of backroom deals and Nick Clegg. This referendum is too important to Britain’s future prosperity to be used as a means of kicking the so-called political elite, the government of the day or to be simply seen as a chance to cast a vote on the renegotiation. Supporters of Britain remaining in Europe must work hard to frame this debate about what really matters: will Britain be more or less prosperous and more or less secure by staying or leaving?

The British public are being bombarded by competing visions of Europe, many of which are often unjustifiably negative. Stories on migration, EU rules, decision making and sovereignty aren’t always based on fact and we need to be resolute in challenging assertions where they are plainly wrong. For example, Brexit campaigners were caught out claiming that Britain sends £350 million a week to Brussels. This has been discredited. That doesn’t take account of the rebate or what the UK gets back through funding for research and development, investment in apprenticeships and jobs, support for British farmers, our creative industries and more. Taking this into account our net contribution is less than half the figure used by Brexit campaigners and amounts to £263 per household per year, or 30 pence per person per day. If you decide that is too high a price to pay then that is a decision you take but it should always be based on fact.

Britain’s average net contribution to the EU is £7.1 billion

£ million 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 UK gross contribution before rebate 15,625 15,116 16,203 18,166 16,247 UK rebate -3,055 -3,120 -3,084 -3,676 -4,894 UK receipts -5,784 -5,701 -5,623 -5,355 -5,635 UK net contribution 6,786 6,295 7,496 9,135 5,718   source source source source source ; source Average £7.1 billion


This amounts to 30p per person per day

Net Contribution (million) £7100 Source Population (million) 65.14 ONS National Population Projections No of Households (million) 26.99 ONS Families and Households, 2015 Net contribution per household £263 Net contribution per person per day £0.30

Of course, the campaign, in addition to loudly and clearly making that positive case, needs to make clear the significant risks of leaving. In any choice between two options it’s important to consider both in turn. But we can’t base our campaign on highlighting the obvious risks nor simply rebutting the leave campaigners’ case. We need a case backed up by evidence and facts for remaining part of Europe that is positive, patriotic, and future-oriented, and that is directly relevant to British families, businesses and individuals.

As campaigners supporting Britain’s continuing membership, our role is to cut through with a case that resonates with the British public. It is not just important for British business for us to remain in, it is also important for consumers. We must demonstrate how the single market is relevant to people’s lives. EasyJet’s CEO Carolyn McCall is right when she makes the compelling case that it was the EU that gave airlines the freedom to fly and compete without barriers across Europe, which resulted in a dramatic fall in fares – around a 40% cut – and the number of routes increasing by 180%. British consumers will benefit from the scrapping of roaming charges, which will save Brits travelling abroad 73p for every pound they used to spend on their mobiles abroad.

We shouldn’t just focus on the economic benefits. We must make the case about how being in Europe makes Britain safer. Many of the threats to Britain’s security are global in nature, like terrorism, the aggression of Russia and cross-border crime. Whether it is implementing sanctions against Russia, sharing intelligence about terrorist suspects or arresting and deporting criminals using the European Arrest Warrant: being in Europe makes us safer. It is because we are positive about Britain that we want the UK to retain its influence on the world stage.

The prime minister’s renegotiation is an important step forward in Britain’s relationship with the EU. It gives us the best of both worlds: the benefits of economic partnership with increased control over areas such as our economy and immigration policy. But the choice at this referendum isn’t a verdict on the outcome of that renegotiation; it should be seen as a choice about Britain’s future.

We must acknowledge that there are concerns over the scale of immigration but we mustn’t deceive the British public into thinking there is a simple solution. Leaving the EU will not stop freedom of movement, unless we also give up access to the world’s largest free trade zone. European countries that have preferential access to the EU’s single market, like Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, have higher rates of immigration than the UK.

There are two main challenges for the leave campaigns, which represent opportunities for Stronger In: there is no settled view on what ‘out’ actually looks like. Like Alex Salmond’s inability to provide certainty over which currency Scotland would use on independence, leave campaigners face a huge challenge to convince undecided voters that a Brexit wouldn’t be a leap into the dark. There are around half a dozen models the UK could settle on if it did leave the EU and not a single one does what the leave campaigns are arguing for. Even worse, they would all cost the UK dearly and none would provide the strength that the UK currently enjoys. If I were considering a vote to leave, the inability to answer this question would worry me considerably.

Secondly, there are huge divisions between the rival leave campaigns. This is not just a cosmetic fight over who is in charge. It is borne of the first challenge: competing visions over why Britain should leave and what its future would look like. They cannot agree on a vision for how Britain prospers outside Europe because, quite simply, there isn’t one that is preferable to being inside Europe with our unique relationship.

Campaigners fighting for Britain to remain in Europe are united in our core optimistic vision: in the years to come the UK will be stronger, safer and better off in Europe than it would be out on its own. By remaining in Europe, we will enjoy greater prosperity, more security and a stronger leading role in the world than if we chose a leap into the dark.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData