Dumbed down Brexit row patronises voters

City A.M.
Follow City
EU Referendum - Signage And Symbols
The in-out referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union takes place on 23 June (Source: Getty)

Like clockwork, yesterday brought another slew of extreme projections about the impact of Brexit. It would “destroy” young people’s hopes of getting on the housing ladder, says Remain, apparently forgetting George Osborne’s warning last month that house prices could fall dramatically if the UK quits the EU (surely a boon for first-time buyers).

Leave has been at it too. Turks are unlikely to migrate en masse to Britain if we stay, and the real net fiscal cost of membership (£150m a week, not the £350m they claim) is still a large enough number to impress on voters that a lot of their money is shipped over the Channel. So why inflate it?

With even Jeremy Corbyn, nominally pro-Remain, attacking doom-mongering Brexit forecasts as hysterical yesterday, something is up. The debate has descended into absurdity. For Remain, Britain isn’t just stronger in the EU, but can never leave because the implications would be so catastrophic. For Leave, the EU isn’t just failing, but the source of all Britain’s ills.

Read more: Liam Fox and Remain campaigners clash over Brexit's impact on housing

And the dodgy dossiers are not working. Despite the barrage of reports critiquing the economics of Brexit, an Ipsos Mori poll this week found that two-thirds of people foresee no negative impact of leaving the EU on their finances.

There could be more worrying implications too.

First, it is unlikely that the referendum will settle the EU question. Whoever loses will accuse the other side of winning on the basis of fabrications.

Second, the credibility of Britain’s most august institutions is under threat. Former IMF director Ashoka Mody attacked a “flawed” consensus among economists in the Independent this week, but reserved particular scorn for the Bank of England. It is “cynically exploiting its authority by claiming to detect Brexit-induced anxiety in the cloud of short-term data”. Even more seriously for an institution meant to safeguard financial stability, it is “building a narrative of panic, which could become self-fulfilling”. Leading Tory MP Andrea Leadsom has already accused Mark Carney of dangerously overstepping his authority.

Finally, while the campaigns trade hyperbolic blows, voters are left patronised. Some of the arguments pertaining to EU membership, like non-tariff barriers and the supremacy of Parliament, are dry. But by failing to take the time to properly explain their cases to the public, both sides are talking down to the people who will actually determine this historic question.

Related articles