Thursday

19th Sep 2019

Column / Brexit Briefing

Cynical campaigns harm public trust

  • Before voting about UK's future, millions of undecided voters are looking for someone to trust (Photo: Reuters)

The idea was that a decide-it-once-and-for-all referendum on Britain’s EU membership would give us a debate worthy of Athenian democracy.

It simply hasn’t happened. Instead, both the Leave and Remain campaigns have made claims that would make the average pub bore blush.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The Leave campaign has pasted the assertion that the UK pays £350 million (€460.2 million) per week to the EU on advertising billboards.

Last weekend (21-22 May), their posters proclaimed that Turkey would soon be joining the EU, with millions of Turks planning to relocate to Britain by 2020.

For its part, the Treasury has published reports that a Brexit would lead to a 3.6 percent drop in economic output and cost the average family £4,300 (€5,651) per year.

The £350 million per week line is a flat-out fib – completely ignoring the £4 billion (€5.2 billion) UK budget rebate and the £6 billion (€7.8 billion) in EU spending that comes back to Britain each year.

So, too, was the Turkey claim.

No serious human expects Turkey to be part of the EU for at least 20 years, amid 28 national EU vetoes, the Cyprus conflict and Ankara’s autocratic swerve.

British PM David Cameron debunked the idea with such glee he said that Turkey might join in the year 3,000.

Who to trust?

To be fair, the Treasury claim is also highly speculative. So is the idea that Britons would need visas for post-Brexit travel to the European Union.

Neither side appears to be easing up on propaganda in the final four weeks.

The Leave campaign, for instance, is planning to double-down on immigration.

That would ignore the fact that when Zac Goldsmith, a Tory candidate for London mayor, tried to smear Sadiq Khan, his Labour Party opponent, as a Muslim extremist it failed dismally.

There are dangerous side-effects when politicians play fast and loose with the truth. Voters start to think that they are all liars.

So, who to trust?

Of the campaign frontmen, the anti-EU former London mayor, Boris Johnson rated the most trustworthy in a recent poll, albeit with an unflattering 31 percent.

He led the pack despite gaffes on Hitler and on US leader Barack Obama’s “part-Kenyan” heritage.

Accused of bias

The tepidly pro-EU Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was in second place on 28 percent. Nigel Farage, the anti-EU leader of the Ukip party, got 22 percent.

The British prime minister, Cameron, got 18 percent - that means just one in six people think he tells the truth on the EU.

Michael Gove, a fierce EU critic in Cameron’s Tory party, rounded out the rankings with 16 percent. 

All non-politicians are tainted by suspicion of bias.

Leave campaigners say that the BBC is pro-EU. Even Mark Carney, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, was accused of being a pro-EU stooge when he said that a Brexit would probably cause a recession.

Daniel Hannan, a Conservative anti-EU MEP, has described the campaign as one “in which decent people can disagree, and the tone has been civil”.

Maybe he was thinking of a different campaign.

The trust gap has prompted both sides to organise public statements by economists, historians, actors - anyone who might seem independent.

Looking for someone to trust

The BBC held its first TV debate on the EU referendum in Glasgow on Thursday (26 May). What stood out was audience frustration on the quality of the debate.

“I have no idea what to do and I blame you lot for that,” one audience speaker told the BBC panel, accusing both sides of “deflections, insults and petty name-calling”.

The final speaker from the audience said that she would like to see “statistics that are real, and that everyone can agree on”.

Some chance.

In a campaign of dishonesty and cynicism fear is likely to be the deciding factor.

Migration is still the trump card of the Leave campaign. Remain holds the best cards on the economy.

In the meantime, there are millions of undecided voters - probably between 10 and 20 percent of the UK electorate - looking for someone to trust.

That is why, despite recent surveys suggesting that Remain enjoys a comfortable lead, the 23 June poll is on a knife-edge.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy and a freelance writer. He writes the "UK referendum briefing" column during the 23 June referendum campaign

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

G7 warns Brexit could hurt global growth

G7 leaders in Japan warned that the UK leaving the European Union is a "serious threat" to global economic growth, as EU leaders draw up plans in case British voters choose to leave the bloc.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Turning the EU migration debate on its head

Costs and benefits of migration are one of the main issues in the EU referendum campaign but the debate is mostly based on myths.

Stumbling towards Brexit

When Britons enter polling booths on 23 June they will be voting as much with their hearts as with their heads, and that puts the Remain campaign in big trouble.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Tories' last EU battle?

With eurosceptic MPs drawing knives on David Cameron, the EU membership vote has become a fight for the Conservative Party's soul on Europe.

News in Brief

  1. EU adds €100m to research and Erasmus budgets
  2. Ambassador: UK Poles should 'seriously considering' leaving
  3. Trump's UK ambassador stirs up anti-EU feeling
  4. Brexit chaos is lesson to other EU states, ECB governor says
  5. EU condemns Israel's latest land grab
  6. Scotland to keep some laws aligned with EU after Brexit
  7. Spain to hold fresh election in November
  8. Turkey ups pressure on visa-free entry into EU

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. A new Commission for the one percent
  2. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'
  3. Germany adopts blockchain strategy and says no to Libra
  4. Revanchist Russia continues to rewrite European history
  5. How EU trains discriminate against the disabled
  6. These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission
  7. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  8. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us