To be successful in Britain’s upcoming EU referendum, a well-organised ‘Leave’ campaign would place a heavy – and sustained – emphasis on communicating to the electorate exactly what voting to leave the EU would result in. The campaign, that is to say, would focus on setting out the procedures which would follow (more or less immediately) from a ‘leave’ victory. If these procedures are shown to be the safe and guaranteed outcome of a ‘leave’ vote – which they are – a focus on them would likely persuade swathes of wavering voters to choose “Leave the European Union” on their referendum ballot papers.
The ‘Remain’ campaign knows the power of this strategy and seeks to distract its opponents away from using it. They have been very successful in doing this by diverting attention towards abstract arguments over the type of ‘agreement’ Britain might end up with should it vote to leave – at the same time as ring-fencing debate to their own narrow definition of what the referendum offers.
Many ‘leavers’ have fallen for this ploy and, as a result, are willingly collaborating in undermining their own cause. Indeed, we may wonder if the referendum question was changed from an ‘In/Out’ to a ‘Remain/Leave’ one in order to bog down those campaigning for withdrawal in pointless (and fractious) discussions over what Britain must leave with. Taking this position not only makes the ‘leavers’ sitting-ducks for all sorts of voter-muddling nitpicking and distortion from the opposition, it also results in a foolish – and completely unnecessarily – concession to a false premise that providing an answer to the ‘leave with what?’ question has a central bearing on the electorate’s eventual decision-making at the ballot box. It doesn’t.
Fixing the debate, instead, onto the procedures the electorate would trigger with a ‘Leave’ majority allows those campaigning for this result to use both the EU and British governments’ own legal stipulations in defining (and limiting) what would follow from a victory. That is to say, by providing the formal, longhand version of the “Leave the European Union” choice (as it will appear on the ballot paper), the campaign will fully inform voters as to exactly what they are – and are not – voting for.
As such, the fully informative version of the current referendum question would be as follows:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the [soon-to-be, two-tier] European Union or should the United Kingdom negotiate and conclude an agreement [with the EU], setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the [European] Union. [Whereafter] the [EU] Treaties shall cease to apply [to Britain] from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement(1), [and on condition that] a referendum about whether the [agreement] should be ratified has been held throughout the United Kingdom(2)?
As we can see, the unpacked version of the question contains nothing other than mandatory procedures provided – in their own words – by the EU and British governments… (1) from Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and (2) from the UK government’s EU Act 2011. There is nothing at all in the question requiring voters to decide upon the type of future agreement Britain should have with the EU, or necessitating an existing, EU-sanctioned model of an agreement as a precondition for deciding to leave (and acting upon that decision should it be the preference of the majority). All voters need to know, going into the ballot, is that a vote to leave will trigger this small number of easily understood – and safe – procedures resulting in the formulation of a new agreement for a future relationship with the EU – the British option – which they can later decide whether or not to bring into force.
The only additional tidbits of information required in support of this question is that the procedures will likely take two years to complete and that should the resulting agreement not be accepted (at the obligatory latter referendum referred to in the question), Britain’s existing relationship with the EU will continue to run. Both of these supporting assertions are also fixed in EU and international treaty law.
A ‘leave’ campaign organised around these factual (and legal) procedures has no need at all to collude in the ‘remainers’ scheme to overload and overwhelm the debate with discussion of Norway, Swiss or Outer Mongolian ‘options’. Mention of such agreements would only have relevance to the debate as extreme fallback options – in the highly unlikely event that the EU refuses to negotiate withdrawal at the withdrawal negotiations it offers as the procedure for doing so.
Of course, the drawback some campaigners might find in adopting such a clear-viewed and straightforward ‘leave’ strategy, is that it would deny them the opportunity to make endless, daily pronouncements on considerations which can be seen to have nothing to do with the actual question the referendum is asking. Instead, perhaps, they could unite in repeatedly driving home the very real and easily-digestible message of what Cameron’s referendum is actually all about (despite what Cameron wants the public to think it’s about) – what voting to leave will actually do, and how it is the bulletproof choice.