Apparently there is panic in Number 10 Downing Street and among the slavishly pro-EU establishment. Good. They have waged a contemptible, negative and deceitful campaign, and whether or not it prevails on June 23 the hearts, minds and consciences of all those involved richly deserve to be troubled
Having done everything but fill in all of the ballot papers himself to ensure a “Remain” vote on 23 June, at this point in the unevenly fought EU referendum campaign we might expect to see a bit of magnanimity or statesmanship from the prime minister as he coasts toward the closing stages.
But the polls have tightened unexpectedly as the British public rightly begin to suspect that the near-unanimous hysterical screeching from the establishment in favour of Remain sounds more like naked self-interest and wretched pessimism about Britain than a realistic warning about what might happen in the event of Brexit. And this has caused David Cameron – a notably weak strategist only capable of thinking one step ahead, unlike his gifted general election campaign manager – to panic, and start behaving in a most un-prime ministerial manner.
Three interventions in particular mark out the descent of David Cameron from oleaginous, confident salesman to the nation’s Bully in Chief – the impromptu rooftop press conference at which Cameron openly accused ministers in his own government of knowingly peddling falsehoods, the statement that Cameron would take Britain out of the single market in the event of a “Leave” vote despite leaving the EEA not being on the ballot paper, and his shameful attempts to bully and coerce Britain’s pensioners, effectively holding a gun to their heads and commanding them to vote Remain or see their pensions fall.
The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman says of Cameron’s panicked rooftop press conference:
David Cameron doesn’t do that many press conferences at all, despite promising in Opposition that he would hold a monthly one, and so when he summons hacks to the roof of a hotel at short notice, you know that there is a Crisis that the Prime Minister is taking Very Seriously indeed.
Cameron then proceeded to list six ‘complete untruths to the British people’ that the Leave campaign was guilty of producing. These were that the UK is liable to bail out eurozone countries, that our rebate is at risk, that we have given up our ability to veto EU treaties, that we have no ability to stop EU spending from going up, that we are powerless to stop Britain being forced into an EU army and that we would save £8bn if we left the EU.
Were these untruths really so heinous that he was forced to hold a press conference at short notice? Or was it, as one of the journalists sitting on the roof with the Prime Minister suggested, that the Leave campaign currently had the momentum and the debate was all about immigration, which damages Remain? Cameron replied:
‘Look, I was watching the news last night and it just came over to me so clearly that there is such a contrast between the weight of independent expert opinion that wishes our country well but is giving us an unvarnished view of the decision we could be taking, there’s a massive contrast between that – respected, independent experts warning us about lost jobs, about instability, about a smaller economy, about the effect on our country. The contrast between that and a series of assertions from the Leave campaign that just simply aren’t right…’
So the Crisis was that the Prime Minister had been watching the news last night.
Some archly dry humour there from Isabel Hardman. When The Spectator openly mocks a Conservative prime minister in this way, you know things are bad.
Cameron’s specific counterpoints are immaterial here – they were aimed at the ravings of the official Vote Leave campaign, which does not speak for all Brexiteers. But what is telling is the fact that David Cameron – a man who promised that he “ruled nothing out” in his renegotiation with the EU while actively colluding with business leaders to plan the eventual Remain campaign, and who then presented the empty gift bag given to him by Brussels as a deal which had fundamentally “reformed Europe” – is willing to go on live television and accuse his Brexit-supporting ministers of being liars.
More insidious than this, though, was the way that David Cameron pledged on the Andrew Marr show last weekend that in the event of a Leave vote he would seek to take Britain out of the single market, despite this being just one (incredibly sub-optimal) mode of Brexit, and the referendum question saying nothing at all about the single market or EEA.
Dr. Richard North of the eureferendum.com blog remarks on:
[..] an extraordinary interview on the Marr Show yesterday which had David Cameron pledging to take the UK out of the Single Market in the event of a Brexit vote. This was despite Andrew Marr suggested that we could stay in, with Cameron refusing to entertain the idea, “because the ‘leave’ campaign had specifically rejected that option”.
The segment of the interview started with Andrew Marr reminding the Prime Minister that he had promised to “carry out the wishes of the British people” if we vote to leave. The trouble is, Marr then said, is that “the wishes of the British people” is a rather indistinct thing – it’s a blunt “yes” or “no”.
Cameron responded by saying that if we vote to leave the Government would carry out the instructions of the British people. That, Marr averred, would put the Prime Minister in “a very strange position”. He’d be doing things like introducing an Australian-style points system that he didn’t believe in. As for, the Single Market, though, Marr said, “there is room for a Prime Minister to negotiate that”.
It was here that the role of Vote Leave came to the fore. “I think one of the most important moments in this campaign”, Cameron said, “was when the ‘out’ campaign said they wanted to leave the Single Market”. He continued: “They didn’t have to make that choice. They’ve made that choice. And what the British public will be voting for … would be to leave the EU and leave the Single Market”.
What the Prime Minister is doing, therefore, is using Vote Leave as a proxy for the entire British public. However, this is a small group of individuals with singular views, put in place by an unelected Electoral Commission to carry out the role of lead campaigner. This can’t in any way be taken to represent the will of even those who favour Brexit – much less the entire British population.
Dr. North is absolutely right to emphasise firmly that Vote Leave do not represent the ideas and wishes of all Brexiteers. They were not elected to represent us, and their most prominent figurehead (Boris Johnson) had not even decided which side he was going to support until a couple of months ago.
Just because the same idiots who stubbornly persist in peddling their “£350 million a week for the NHS” falsehood in the face of endless rebuttals and fact checks have airily decided that Britain should not Brexit to an interim state preserving single market access in no way precludes that option. As Richard North reminds us, the ballot paper asks whether we want to leave or remain in the European Union – nothing more and nothing less. We should know, we spent long enough haggling over the wording at the time.
All the evidence suggests that if Britain leaves the EU without securing an “off the shelf” deal to ensure continuity of access to the single market (while fully extricating us from political union, which is what the referendum is all about) there will be at least some negative short term economic consequences, as no new trade deals can possibly be negotiated in the two-year window provisioned in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. By contrast, Brexiting to an interim EFTA/EEA arrangement (the so-called Norway Option) would maintain our full access to the single market in the short to medium term while we work on a better bespoke solution for Britain.
The attractiveness of the interim EFTA/EEA route is self-evident: Britain would immediately be free of ever-closer political union and democracy would be restored, while maintaining single market access (for which we would pay) would return our relationship with the EU to the state that people believed they were voting for in the 1975 referendum. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Remainers are desperate to slander and dismiss the option as unworkable – it represents dynamite which would obliterate their entire case for continuing to suffer the EU.
But while David Cameron’s eagerness to problematise the Norway Option is understandable politically, for the prime minister to flat-out state that he would not pursue this option and instead take Britain out of the single market (despite no mandate to do so from the electorate) is bordering on threatening self-harm. Any Brexit model not involving keeping interim access to the single market would inevitably come with higher risks and potential economic costs than adopting the Norway Option. By ruling it out, David Cameron is essentially threatening the electorate, saying that if we vote Leave he will pursue the most disruptive and costly form of Brexit within his power, purely as an act of spiteful vengeance.
Just stop and think about that for a moment. David Cameron has effectively told voters that if we vote to leave the European Union, he will sneer “your wish is my command” and then set about doing so in the most reckless and ill-considered manner possible, just to teach us a lesson. The prime minister of this country has just threatened our own national interests on live television. Is that something which we should just blink and accept, writing it off as “fair play” in a hard fought referendum? I profoundly disagree. I think that it is contemptible behaviour, the kind of action which immediately disqualifies the perpetrator from holding further public office.
And if this still wasn’t enough, David Cameron then went from threatening the British people in general to attempting to scare Britain’s older voters in particular, with despicable threats that Brexit would automatically and inevitably lead to pension cuts.
Tim Stanley, rightly outraged, calls this what it is – blackmail:
Project Fear has turned into Project Frightened. Remain are losing ground in opinion polls and running scared. So what do they do? Go positive? Make a better, brighter case for the EU? No. They double-down and turn to blackmail.
That’s the only word that suits David Cameron’s threat that Brexit might lead to pensions being cut, made today in this newspaper. His logic is that Brexit will create a gap in the finances that will have to be filled somehow. The triple lock on pensions, guaranteeing rising incomes, would probably have to picked. Even if it were a moral necessity to help the aged, it would suddenly become unaffordable.
This is rubbish for two reasons. First, it’s based on the Government’s assumption that Brexit will lead to a collapse in trade that will wipe billions off GDP. The Treasury forecasts that this is based on are alarmist and absurd – they suggest a retraction worse than the Great Depression. Businessmen who actually deal with Europe every day, such as Sir James Dyson, report that they don’t see such a risk and are confident that Britain will continue to grow.
Second, Cameron suggests that the Government would have no choice but to cut pensions – as though the invisible hand of the free market would be clasped around its throat. Nonsense. It would face spending choices and, Cameron is telling us, it would choose to cut pensions. Much as the Government has chosen in the last few years to cut the highest rate of income tax on the rich or chosen to cut benefits for the poor. If Brexit did trigger a recession, the Government would once again have to do what it’s supposed to do and make budget decisions based upon its political preferences. I humbly suggest it chases the tax evaders and closes some loopholes before it bleeds pensioners dry.
And Stanley’s devastating conclusion:
The bottom line is this: the Prime Minister has moved from warning the British people to threatening them. And picking on the elderly – some of whom are legitimately worried about the future – is one of the lowest things you can do in politics.
At this point in the EU referendum campaign we are used to seeing the European Union portrayed by its cheerleaders and apologists as a controlling, abusive spouse that would rough us up without hesitation if we try to leave its cloying embrace. But now, the prime minister himself is behaving like an abusive spouse, essentially pushing Britain’s pensioners up against the wall with his hand on their throat, pointing to the kitchen knife on the counter and saying “I don’t want to do this, but you’ll leave me no choice if you cross me”.
What utterly despicable and unmanly behaviour from our prime minister. What debased, fearmongering garbage this man is capable of spewing in order to get his way in the EU referendum. David Cameron’s legacy as prime minister has long been in question, having governed for five years as part of an unmemorable centrist coalition and latterly as a party which blind observers might guess to be the work of Blue Labour, if not Blair’s New Labour. But now that legacy has crystallised – Cameron is the prime minister who betrayed conservatism and bullied his own people, preferring to serve the interests of the EU than those of his country.
David Cameron doesn’t have a conservative bone in his body. He doesn’t have an ideological bone of any kind, and from his craven behaviour in this referendum campaign it is quite clear that he lacks a backbone, too. And like a common school bully, he is willing to throw the full weight of his office and government around, breaking conventions and standards of common decency left, right and centre as he seeks to gain every inch of advantage.
Whether it is conducting a blatantly fraudulent “renegotiation” and presenting the status quo as shiny new baubles he secured from Brussels, calling the referendum implausibly early against the advice of the Electoral Commission, spending taxpayer money on a one-sided propaganda leaflet, sending out voting advice guides which subliminally encouraged people to vote Remain, winning over prominent Remain supporters with government jobs and official honours, cravenly failing to take part in a single proper televised debate, misrepresenting his opponents, attacking conscientious objectors to his slavish europhilia within the Conservative Party and isolating and targeting every possible voter group with customised attempts at scaremongering – now including this unsubtle warning to pensioners that he will spitefully lash out at them if they vote to Leave – in every way imaginable, David Cameron has debased himself and his office.
That’s why the prime minister’s days are numbered. At present he takes false courage from the fact that his normally sworn enemies in the Labour Party and on the generic Left are holding their fire in their shared desperation to keep Britain in the EU. But on June 24, Cameron will quickly realise that a good half of his own Conservative Party, together with everyone else in the country, will be straining at the leash to eject him from office, strip him of the bully pulpit he has so abused, and send him marching barefoot back to Witney in sackcloth and ashes.
And such is the amount of political capital and personal goodwill Cameron has squandered, barely a single person will come to his defence when the inevitable party leadership coup takes place. In the minds of many people – now including this blog – whether his successor is just as bad (i.e. Boris Johnson) is almost immaterial. The pleasure of seeing such an arrogant and dishonest man as David Cameron driven from power in disgrace, his reputation rightly in ruins, will be its own reward.
There is a legitimate and intellectually coherent case for Britain remaining in the European Union, but David Cameron has not made it. In fact, when it comes to the rarely heard (in this country) principled euro federalist case, its proponents all seem to have been abducted and held far away from any television studio so that they don’t open their mouths and drive thousands more people into the Brexit column.
Whether the prime minister is among their number is not known. It is possible that the man is catastrophically misguided and actually believes some of the nonsense he has spewed about securing a “better deal” for Britain, and that Britain could somehow prosper as a country inevitably on the margins of an ever more tightly integrating eurozone. Perhaps.
But either way he has not been honest with the British people. Worse than that, though, he treats the people with open contempt. Some politicians lie because they fear the people, but not so with Cameron. David Cameron lies because he despises the people, holds their intelligence in low regard, and is more than willing to alternately deceive, belittle and threaten the people in the service of his establishment masters and instincts.
This is a prime minister who, when given the choice between vociferously defending the national interest of his country against the EU elite or siding with that same elite and bullying his own people into submission to their will, gladly chooses the latter course of action every single time.
There are few words strong enough to adequately describe the prime minister’s odious character and behaviour as revealed over the course of this EU referendum campaign – certainly none which I am willing to publish on this blog.
Which is why I am ending this piece here, in utter disgust at the conniving, arrogant, untrustworthy and weak approximation of a man presently in charge of our country – before I say something that I might later come to regret.
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