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EU Referendum: looking at defeat

2016-05-23 06:36:35

Straight from the Cummings book of the EU – the one that has the Schengen area and the single currency as part of the Single Market - and the Boris Johnson school of banana regulation, we now have armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt telling us that the UK does not have a veto over Turkey joining the EU.

Mordaunt was on the Sunday Marr show, expounding on Turkey's chances of joining the EU, when she said: "This is our last chance to have a say on this, we’re not going to be consulted on whether those countries should join. Those countries are going to join, it is a matter of when".

Marr suggested this was wrong, given "the British government does have a veto on Turkey joining, so we don't have to let them join". But Mordaunt replied: "No, it doesn't. We are not going to be able to have a say".

Giving the woman every opportunity to correct herself, Marr returned to the issue at the end of the interview, telling Mordaunt he was "pretty sure" we had a veto. "Are you sure that we don't?", he asked.

Determined to bury herself in her own stupidity, Mordaunt refused to take the hint. "We haven't", she said. "I think that with the current situation, the migrant crisis and other issues in Europe at the moment, we would be unable to stop Turkey joining".

Nailing down the coffin lid, she then said: "I think this is a matter for the British people to decide, and the only shot that they will get to express a view on this is in this referendum… I don't think that the UK will be able to stop Turkey joining".

Given such a gift, David Cameron could hardly have believed his luck. "Let me be clear", he told ITV's Peston on Sunday, "Britain and every other country in the European Union has a veto on another country joining".

Then, making the killer point, he added: "That is a fact, and the fact that the Leave campaign are getting things as straightforward as this wrong should call in to question their whole judgment in making the bigger argument about leaving the EU".

So there we have yet another unforced error – a train-wreck interview in a train-wreck campaign, where Vote Leave is making just about every mistake in the book and then coming back to invent a whole lot more.

Earlier, four "supermarket bosses", capitalising on Vote Leave's stupidity in rejecting continued participation in the Single Market, warned that the uncertainty arising from leaving the EU "would cause shop prices to rocket and prove 'catastrophic' for millions of families".

According to the Mail on Sunday, they also "demolished" the argument touted by Gove and Johnson that Britain would be better off without EU regulations. "The much-cited suggestion that we will be free of the apparent constraints of over-regulation if we leave Europe is nonsense", they said. "We need regulation to protect consumers and, if we want to continue to trade with Europe, the rules still apply".

In what was obviously a coordinated initiative, David Cameron wrote a piece for The Sun telling us that a 12 percent fall in the value of sterling precipitated by Brexit would mean "more expensive imports". That in turn, wrote Cameron, "means more expensive food and it drives higher business costs. And we all know where that ends up: higher prices in the shops".

Helpfully, a new Treasury analysis shows the average cost of the weekly family shop for food and drink would rise by almost three percent - £120 a year. Clothing and footwear would see even bigger increases - a five percent increase, or an extra £100 a year. Put together, that's a £220 bill for the average family says Cameron.

Then, right on cue, came NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens telling us that he took warnings of possible recession in the event of Brexit "very seriously", adding that would be "very dangerous" for the service. "When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold", he said, adding it would be a "terrible moment" at a time when the NHS needed extra investment.

And with all that piling up, it took the Mail on Sunday yesterday to note: "it is clearer than ever that the Leave campaigners are losing the economic argument". "They have", the paper said, "failed to produce a substantial body of evidence that Britain will prosper or gain as a result of quitting the EU, and time is running out for them to do so".

"So far in this campaign", the paper concluded, "the more the Leave campaign's arguments have been subjected to the stress test of national debate, the weaker they have looked. They have very little time left to make a consistent and persuasive case for a momentous and radical change in the nation's course".

Yet, there is nothing in the critique of the "leave" case that could not be resolved either by attention to detail or, in respect of the economic case, by adopting the Efta/EEA option as an interim solution for leaving the EU. Today's talk of "recession" spread across the front pages of the newspapers should have been headed off at the pass by early publication of an economically neutral plan. 

All Vote Leave needed was that sensible exit plan. Most of the scaremongering would have evaporated. Instead, they based their campaign on a lie and chosen a serial liar to lead it. They have rejected the very idea of an exit plan, yet made economic savings the centrepiece of their pitch, thereby placing the issue firmly on the agenda. 

There must be some optimists who believe we can overcome the sheer weight of stupidity with which we are confronted. But if the campaign is salvageable, Sam Hooper doesn't think so. Nor does Pete, who is writing of a "well-earned defeat", and even Mary Ellen Synon thinks we're losing.

We will have to wait for the patient to die before conducting a post mortem, but we have to agree with the pessimists. As long as we're handicapped by the huge burden of Vote Leave's stupidity, I simply do not see how we can win. With only a calender month to go, the chances of this campaign being turned round are looking increasingly remote. 

Unless there's a miracle, we're looking at defeat on 23 June.