Although nothing can be taken for granted, the polls are starting to move towards Remain. Given you’d expect a push of three to five points for the status quo option on polling day, even if the two sides were polling neck in neck, this bodes badly for Leave. Still, if you look at the Scottish Indy referendum, there was a late move towards Yes that was unexpected at the time – again, nothing can be taken for granted.
If there is a late surge for Leave, Cameron has one last card to play. It is risky, however, and I think he would only do this if he thought there was a genuine chance that victory was slipping from his grasp altogether.
He could give a speech laying out what would happen if we do vote to Leave on June 23rd. He could say that although he was obviously hoping for a Remain win, in the event of Brexit being chosen by the British public, here’s what he would do: he would sign up the UK to a Norway type arrangement. So we stay in the EEA but leave the EU. The important bit of this announcement tactically is that Cameron would lay out what that means for immigration, namely that freedom of movement under this new set up would remain precisely as is. Subtext: if you’re thinking of voting Leave because of immigration, don’t bother, it won’t change if you do, so you’ll be taking a big risk for nothing.
If using this tactic worked out well for Remain, they might even provoke Leave into either saying that what Cameron would do is immaterial because he would have to stand down in the face of a Leave vote, or even better, call for his head directly. Either way, it sends a message that works for the Bremainers: a vote for Leave would send the country into chaos, with a prime minister you didn’t vote for at a general election, possibly Boris Johnson, having to negotiate the entire future of the country.
It is risky though, for this reason: the public could call Cameron’s bluff with it. They could say, actually, the Norway deal sounds all right. Okay, we can’t change immigration, at least for now, but we’d get some of our sovereignty back and that’s what matters to us. So I think the prime minister would only go this way if he really felt he was on the verge of losing the referendum – which at this point seems unlikely. For now, total confusion about what would happen post-Brexit works in his favour.
Very good point, Nick. I suspect that Cameron will hold off on this until at least after his non-debate with Farrage. If Farrage flops in the view of undecided middle England (“So Nige: what does out actually look like? You’ve not thought this through, have you…?”), then there’s no need to risk it.
Steve Peers says
Overall less sovereignty under the EEA, not more, since the UK would not have a vote on EU laws that it would in principle have to apply – although there are some EU laws not within the scope of the EEA. I think that this wouldn’t work since Cameron has already rubbished the idea plus as you say, the obvious rebuttal is that he might not be around to carry this out.