Richard North, 25/04/2016  

It says a great deal for the dereliction of the official leave campaign that we have Alexander (aka Boris) Johnson still bleating about this referendum being our last chance "to take back control – of £350m a week (and use some of that cash to deliver a seven-day NHS)".

This £350m figure is completely discredited and even many of the apparatchiks dutifully toeing the line don't actually believe it. But not one of them has the courage to confront Dominic Cummings, author of this stupidity.

It doubtless this, amongst other things, that has Simon Heffer asking: "Whose side is Vote Leave really on?" He refers to Cummings at the Treasury in terms of his "bizarre performance", which "left some of us wondering whether he was on day release from a secure facility".

Dan Hodges, now in the Mail also offers his penn'orth, suggesting that this is not a debate between two competing but mature visions of Britain's place in the world. "It is a debate between adults and children", he says.

To support his view, he cites the insensitive Mr Banks who claimed that a £4,300 cost per household of Brexit it represented "a bargain", Michael Gove who seemed to be offering Albania as an alternative vision for Britain, Nigel Farage raging that Barack Obama was the most "anti-British" president in history and Johnson branding him the "part-Kenyan" president.

Advocates of Brexit, he says, opted to base their entire referendum strategy on the claim Britain would be able to swiftly re-negotiate a series of unilateral trade deals with the rest of the world, yet, "it doesn't seem to have occurred to them the rest of the world might have something to say about it as well".

Unsurprisingly, therefore, we had the Telegraph on Saturday telling us that "the Leave campaign desperately needs to up its game".

"The EU referendum will be won by courting undecided voters in the centre ground", it says, "and Mr Obama' s intervention may well have an impact on their thinking". It goes on to say: "The Leave campaign can complain about 'project fear' as much as it likes, and with some legitimacy, but that does not change the fact that many voters see reasons to fear a future outside the EU".

To win them over, the newspaper thus concludes, "Leave has to show that a prosperous alternative is possible. They need to turn an intellectual proposition into a coherent, detailed plan".

That, of course, should have been the position two years ago, when we could have dominated the debate and pre-empted much of the "remain" propaganda. But that still doesn't stop the likes of Charles Moore imbibing the Cummings Kool Aid, arguing that "leave" is not entitled to have a plan.

This is on the basis that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, would use every possible source of official "information" to tear it apart, and the "leave" campaigners would start quarrelling with one another.

It says a great deal for Mr Moore's perspicacity that, without a plan, "leave" is being attacked for not having a plan, which campaigners are already quarrelling with one another, because they don't have a plan. In the quarrelling stakes, we even have Mr Farage complain that the campaign has "fundamental problems, even though he has carefully avoided devoting any energies to planning a strategy.

In Mr Farage's view, on problems is that it appears that the Leave campaign is just the Conservative Cabinet ministers. We've got to be appealing to a broader group of people than just the Tory electorate", he says. Farage also accuses Vote Leave of excluding him from their campaign – something that was always going to happen. He joins a growing club of "the excluded".

The second problem, he says, is that "if we debate economics and trade we can go round in circles for weeks, and the public will be none the wiser at the end of it". Instead, he feels, we should be talking about the fact we have an open door to 508 million people.

On this, it seems that Gove is preparing to go full kipper, arguing that Britain will be subject to a migration "free-for-all" as the next wave of EU expansion hands millions more people the right to move here. The NHS faces an "unquantifiable strain" if Britain remains in the EU.

Yet ceding the economic ground is seen as a fatal strategic error. Focusing on immigration will never generate enough support for them, says the "remain" campaign – something with which ComRes would agree. It has 47 percent thinking that the economy will most influence their referendum votes, as opposed to 24 percent who put immigration in the top slot.

Bluntly, as the train-wrecks mount, the only really good news is Andrew Stuttaford. He agrees that the "leave" campaign is not in a position to determine how Britain's departure from the EU would be negotiated, but it does need to show that there are Brexit routes and that they can be navigated in a safe and straightforward way.

"Many undecided voters are unwilling to take the risk (as they see it) of leaving the EU, a risk that the remainers are, naturally enough, playing up", Stuttaford says. To that end, "Brexiteers need to explain why those risks are far less than the undecideds now fear, and a pretty good way to do it is—smelling salts—a plan. Brexiteers need to demonstrate not only why Brexit, but how".

As it happens, Stuttaford thinks that the best way to go is some variant of the "Norway option" via membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). "That's a step that initially would change little (and thus would not alarm the nervous) but over time would make all the difference, to which effect, he points people in this direction".

There is another bit of good news though. Owen Paterson is giving a speech at 11.30 this morning, at 10 Carlton House Terrace. Entrance is free to anyone who wants to attend. Some of the points may be familiar to EU Referendum readers.

Note least, Mr Paterson will tell his audience that special status David Cameron "won" in his renegotiation as a sham. If we remain, we get the worst of both worlds – stuck inside the EU but with scant influence. And we will still be on the hook for future bailouts of the ailing single currency.

With that, in campaigning terms, we can only hope that things will get better. They can hardly be worse – last week was the week of the "remains". They got to wear the tee-shirt.

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