“No big institutions back Brexit,” a fellow journalist barked in my face at a drinks party last week. As I tried to respond, the point was repeated, this time more aggressively. “No big institutions want Brexit – not the CBI, the big banks or accountancy firms, they all think it’s mad”.
With less than seven weeks until the UK’s referendum on European Union membership, the rhetorical battle-lines are drawn. The main strategy of the government and broader Remain camp is “Project Fear” – scaring ordinary voters they’ll be thousands of pounds poorer each year if we leave. Such psychological bombardment – presenting self-serving and deeply dubious forecasts as “fact” – will continue all the way to Thursday 23rd June.
David Cameron last week laid out demands/objectives/aspirations – delete as appropriate – for reforming the European Union. The word choice depends on whether you view the Prime Minister’s conditions for backing the UK’s on-going EU membership as ambitious, woefully weak, or somewhere in between.
By making it clear for several years that he wants Britain to stay in whatever the outcome of his “renegotiation”, Cameron has blundered badly. His outlined reforms are, on top of that, far too timid – coming across more as an extended apology for being awkward, rather than the opening gambit of what needs to be a prolonged, hard-nosed negotiation.
“Fair play with the ‘plastic Paddy’ shtick, Liam, but you’re still talking out of your hole.” So shouted a heckler at the Kilkenomics Festival – his words directed at me.
Up on stage in the Marble City’s bijoux Set Theatre, I was on a panel discussing the possible implications of ‘Brexit’ for Ireland, the sell-out event combining economics with riotous comedy. The show-cased ‘experts’ were dealing with a technical, highly emotive subject: just how will Ireland fare if its biggest trading partner votes to quit the European Union?