In this referendum campaign, it’s our industry’s job to analyse the arguments from both sides, present them to businesses based both inside and outside the UK, and help them to plan for the future.
Given the difficulties that professional political analysts have had in cutting through the opposing campaigns’ information and opinions, it’s very ambitious to expect the average voter to make a fully-informed decision on whether the UK is better off in or out of the EU.
One of the only points that most can agree on is that the Leave campaign is asking the British people to take a giant step into the unknown. From a political risk perspective, it’s almost impossible to provide a projection of what post-Brexit life will be like. There are simply too many variables.
Yes, it’s possible that the UK can get a ‘better deal’ outside the EU, but the challenges ahead of us are immense and unpredictable. For example, we can leave and negotiate the perfect UK-EU relationship, but if a single member state vetoes the deal then everything will be up in the air: From trade to visas, we will be in unchartered waters.
As a result of the confusion, many voters are looking for guidance from people they trust. Naturally, the campaigns know this and the Royal Mail has been besieged by co-ordinated letters from businesses, spies, soldiers and charities making their case.
By now, this tactic is over-used and the casual observer is over-whelmed. Who are we meant to trust: the former Chairman of HSBC saying leave or its current Chairman telling us to remain?
We are deluged by information, but it’s impossible to digest a new argument before a counter-argument casts it into doubt. The campaigns are like crabs in a bucket, constantly stopping each other from getting their message through to the public.
If voters can’t compare arguments, they’ll compare the people. And it is here that the Leave campaign should worry. Whilst David Cameron and George Osborne aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, they can make a case for their ability to a) run an economy, and b) make sound decisions.
Conversely, the Leave camp has few figureheads to go toe-to-toe with the Downing Street mob. Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove may be heavyweights in Westminster but to voters, one is responsible for half a decade of benefits adjustments, and the other was an Education Secretary so unpopular that the Government reshuffled him out of the limelight ahead of the General Election.
Popularity with the public aside, there is also the issue of leadership. Whilst Boris continues to be touted as a future Prime Minister, he’s not claiming that he can lead the UK’s post-Brexit negotiations. A Brexit vote will only be the beginning; the real challenge will be the UK-EU negotiations and the public needs to be convinced that the pro-Brexit camp has a game plan for getting the best possible deal for the UK.
To this end, it was not encouraging for voters when Chris Grayling, a leading figure in the Brexit camp, said that the best person to lead the UK’s exit negotiations would be the person whom his campaign has spent so much effort undermining: David Cameron.
This raises a crucial point. Many voters will know they’re not just voting on the future of UK-EU relations, but also the future of this Government. Few would be surprised if a Brexit vote leads to both Cameron and Osborne resigning immediately.
This may be why recent polling shows Tory voters creeping towards Remain. A round of Fantasy Cabinet using only the pro-Brexit Conservatives sees many of the most experienced and popular Conservative ministers left on the bench.
Of course, a post-Brexit cabinet will include those who campaigned to remain but voters can only see what is in front of them and at the moment, they are unconvinced that those leading the charge towards the exit will know which way to turn once we find ourselves outside.
If the Leave camp thinks the EU is the worst thing to happen to the UK, just wait until they’re on the other side of the negotiating table. The gloves will be off and we will need every ounce of guile, diplomacy and experience to get a deal that’s better than the one we have today.
The Leave campaign needs to prove that it can deliver. Otherwise, the voters will play it safe.