Two decades of attacks on the European Union, a convoluted reform process, botched campaigning techniques and a failure to answer basic questions on immigration cost David Cameron the referendum – so says the former Prime Minister's top aide.
Daniel Korski, who was deputy director of the highly influential Number 10 policy unit and was one of Cameron's most trusted lieutenants, has this morning spilled the beans on the inside story of the referendum campaign that ultimately cost him and his boss their jobs.
In an 8,000 word dissection of the vote, published this morning on Politico, Korski lays blame across the spectrum for the failure to keep the UK inside the EU. His ultimate conclusion: You can blame the failure of "Project Fear" or an inability to offer any substantial immigration reforms for the loss, but the vote for Brexit was 20 years in the making.
Moreover, despite a consistent lead in the polls during the official campaign, Korski suspects the Remain camp were always the underdogs.
"Given the UK's historic European skepticism, 20 years of anti-EU rhetoric, the stresses of the euro crisis, and an epochal influx of refugees, convincing the British electorate to Remain was bound to be an uphill battle," Korski wrote.
Korski also admitted Cameron failed to convince the media or the public on the merits of his high-profile renegotiation with Brussels.
"It was hard. And despite our efforts, the negotiations failed. Europe’s leaders refused to break with the — in my view, erroneous and ahistorical — consensus around the freedom of movement of people."
Nevertheless, Korski stands by the contents of that renegotiation, which secured a so-called "emergency brake" on benefits for new EU arrivals, acknowledgement that the principle of "ever closer union" would not apply to the UK and that the UK would never have to join the euro or be on the hook for bailing out Eurozone countries.
"The deal that Cameron achieved was actually quite profound. [It] was a real win. But like many of our victories in the EU, it was too complex to explain to ordinary voters. The media was not impressed. And the European Parliament and some Conservative MPs began undermining the merits of the outcome even before the proverbial ink was dry."
Korski also lays into the UK's relationship with German chancellor Angela Merkel, saying Britain was "over-reliant" on her and that she had no interest in addressing the UK's calls for reform.
"Most saw the talks as a nuisance to be dealt with (Merkel), dangerous to Europe (Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel), or damaging to their political careers (French President Francois Hollande)."
Korksi concludes: "Winning would have required a much greater effort, much earlier on, to sway the electorate. There were loads of things in hindsight that we should have done … but I doubt they would have been critical.
"From the moment Cameron promised a referendum we should have built up the case for European cooperation, preparing the electoral battlefield we would eventually have to fight on. We didn’t. And so a better organised, more passionate adversary won."