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After the march: how to win the referendum
25 Jun, 2018

We need to re-set our campaigning

London4Europe Committee Member Michael Romberg writes that getting the referendum on the terms will be the easy bit. Winning it requires a total rethink of our campaigning. Above all, we have to show that we have listened to Leave voters.

Everyone who was on the march last Saturday will have experienced the great energy, optimism and good nature that was shown by the Remain movement – visibly and nosily out in force. We need to turn that enthusiasm into victory.

The victory that matters of course is not just ensuring that Parliament sets up the referendum on the terms. It is not even winning that referendum. It is healing the country. And that requires us to run the referendum campaign in a particular way.

Need to recover from the mistakes of the past

We need an almost 180 degree turn from what some Remainers have been saying for the past two years.

Since the June 2016 shock many Remainers have been deeply opposed to any engagement with the electorate. So:

All that has been counter-productive. Leave voters have been confirmed in their view that the elite does not care about them.

A referendum forces us to engage

The biggest single advantage of using a referendum to settle what happens is that it requires us to engage with Leave voters. We will only win the referendum on the terms if 2016 Leave voters vote Remain. They will only do so if it is in their own best interests to do so. We therefore need to come up with a programme to make it in their best interests.

For a lasting settlement, they need to vote positively for the EU; not because they wish for Brexit but fear that we cannot afford it. Remember the real aim: to heal the country.

Forget demographics or better advertising or higher turnout. At best, these factors could scrape us over 50%. We need a convincing win. To get to 67R:33L would require over six million Leave voters to vote Remain. So we have to address their concerns.

Step 1: stop losing

The first thing is to stop saying things that lose us credibility. Any dissing of the electorate or the 2016 result just takes us backwards.

Step 1a: lower the focus on the economy

Of course I believe the economy is important – I am a former HM Treasury official. But it is not the most important thing.

For those few Leave voters who really care about the economy, whether they want socialism in one state or a deregulated Global Britain, nothing we can say will make a difference.

The rest do not believe us – the lack of an immediate economic crisis proves to their satisfaction that Brexit will not be an economic problem. The honest statement of economic harm from Brexit is slightly slower growth. Though it would accumulate over time – HM Treasury’s £4,000 after 15 years – it would be imperceptible in any one year.

The economy is just not a point worth making a big deal of in our campaign. Project Fear failed last time. Why would it succeed this time?

Step 2: EU membership: a message of hope

We have to start with our counter-message to the emotional appeal of “Take back control”. We need to campaign in poetry. We need our “yes we can”.

Why actually do we believe in the EU? Is it really just about trade? For me it is because the EU is:

That is a message of hope. We can give it with our eyes on the horizon, facing the future bravely.

Sure, it will be met with blank looks and rejection. Unlike on the Continent, it is a relatively new idea in the UK. But we have to try it if we are to get away from asking people to vote for the benefit of their wallets.

Step 3: we heard you in 2016 - a change is going to come

Above all, 2016 was a protest. We therefore cannot campaign to Remain, for things to stay as they are. That is hard for us. We liked things as they were in May 2016. But 17 million of our fellow citizens didn’t. So we need to advocate change.

It is awkward because the protest came from two directions:

  • the left-behind, who had nothing to lose and wanted someone to blame; and
  • the leafy towns and suburbs of the South East who were doing well but felt the loss of an England of the imagination

It is also awkward because the Remain movement can no more deliver change than the Leave campaign could deliver Brexit. We must not follow their lead in making false and undeliverable promises.

So we need the political parties to come on board and show how they would respond. That will not work because the two main parties are pro-Brexit.

So we, the campaigners, need to take the promises that have been made by the various parties and show how they would work better if we Remained.

For example, there would be no government distraction – years spent tieing up loose ends after Brexit and managing a permanent negotiation with the EU could be better spent addressing real problems. The EU is a regulatory magnet, so we will end up as a rule-taker – better if we shape the rules.

Step 4: Sovereignty

Sovereignty matters more to Leave voters than we credit. So we have to address it head on and explain why it is better to pool sovereignty.

Blogs on this page give arguments for how EU membership enhances sovereignty, how the EU is more democratic than Leavers think, ensuring that the benefits of Brexit are worth the cost, the benefits of relying on shared EU agencies.

Step 5: Immigration

We must not pretend that EU changes are going to save us – no-one had heard of the posted workers directive before the referendum. Nor will an emergency brake work. We have to defend freedom of movement as it is.

Blogs on this page address: messages about immigration that calm Leave voters, what immigration control is worth to Leavers, the Government always misses its immigration target, the different roles of immigration and austerity in pressure on public services.


The question to ask about every campaigning action is: will this make a 2016 Leave voter vote Remain with enthusiasm and for positive reasons? One by one we will get to six million converts.



Blogs on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.