Thursday

20th Sep 2018

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

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-Arab League summit proposed for February in Egypt
  2. Stop 'migration blame-game', Tusk tells EU leaders
  3. McDonald's Luxembourg tax deal 'compatible' with EU rules
  4. Danish bank CEO resigns in Russia scandal
  5. Germany seeks to join EU's eastern energy club
  6. UK universities top EU in Chinese ranking
  7. Poland seeks 'Fort Trump' US military base
  8. EU stops Irish case after Apple pays €13bn

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us