Brexit or Bremain, these are the five winners and five losers of the EU referendum campaign

Denis MacShane
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The referendum has been a win-win for Farage, who will emerge as the authentic populist force if we vote to Remain (Source: Getty)

The polls are open, the politicians have left the stage, and the responsibility for deciding whether Britain remains a member of the EU now rests with the British people. But the referendum has itself thrown up winners and losers. Here are five of each:

The Winners

The old: Brexit is no country for young men. The debate has given a new lease of life to a yesteryear generation of politicians like former chancellors Nigel Lawson, 84, and Norman Lamont, 74, and ex-party leaders like John Major and Neil Kinnock, 73 and 74. Until the tragic political killing of Jo Cox MP, no-one under 50 had figured in the debate.

Nigel Farage: The referendum is a win-win for the Ukip leader. David Cameron only offered the plebiscite in 2013 because he was frightened Ukip would steal enough Tory votes in the 2015 General Election to prevent a Conservative majority. If Britain votes Remain, Farage is back in business as the authentic leader of populist anti-European forces and will focus on the 2019 European Parliament election.

Ghosts: Both Remain and Brexit have sought to invoke the names of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher to buttress their case. The grandson of Sir Winston, the ebullient Tory MP Nicholas Soames, whose father was an EU Commissioner, has put out podcasts and aggressive tweets on behalf of the Churchill name supporting Remain.

Public debate: Never have so many people come to public meetings held in big and small halls, bookstores like the Waterstones chain, or literary and speakers festivals to hear the two sides make their case. Town centres have been filled with Leave and Remain stalls. Brits want to hear real people speaking live, not just get their politics from TV.

The EU: In four short months, Brits have learnt more about the EU than in the previous 40 years. Proponents can dispute facts, but for the first time the BBC, ITV, and Sky have had to allow time for a wide in-depth discussion on how the EU works which previously had been a mystery to most in the UK.

The Losers

Political elites: The question David Cameron has never been able to answer is: “If it is so vital to stay in Europe, why did you risk organising a plebiscite that no-one asked you to hold?” Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has had a dreadful campaign with unconvincing half-hearted endorsements of Remain. The once influential and pro-European Liberal Democrats have disappeared and sightings of the Scottish leader, Nicola Sturgeon, are rare.

Media oligarchs: Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere, the dominant off-shore owners of British newspapers, have split their bets, with their papers recommending both Remain and Leave advice to readers. The British press has had an unhappy Brexit campaign as they have favourites in both camps and the relentless support for just one side that is the norm in British elections has not been possible.

British business: The CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce have paid the price for spending recent years relentlessly moaning about the EU and complaining about its red tape or the perceived failings of the Eurozone. Many criticisms are justified but, faced with an existential choice, many in British business were unable to find words to persuade and had little mechanism to talk to employees to urge them to say No to Brexit.

The pundits and pollsters: The easiest column to write and get published since Maastricht and the creation of the euro has been a knocking job on the EU. This is as true for the left-liberal commentators who blame the EU for corruption and clientelism in Greece and Spain or youth employment as it has been for the rightist anti-Europeans. But there have been no new arguments, no fresh voices to emerge in this campaign. The pollsters have had a disastrous campaign with wildly contradictory results from online and phone polls, and their standing has taken a big hit.

The EU: Violent strikes in France. No economic growth. Weak leadership in Brussels. Open contempt for EU values from Warsaw, Hungary and Bratislava. No common line on Russia or the Balkans. A shabby realpolitik deal with Turkish President Erdogan to slow down refugee flows. An absence of vision that convinces and enthuses. It is not directly the fault of Cameron’s Brexit plebiscite, but the image of the EU today – in contrast to invocations of why post-war European integration was a good thing – has not been improved in Britain in the period of the referendum.

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