THE moment I saw the ‘Save our NHS’ line on the Vote Leave campaign letter I knew we were in for trouble. I felt distinctly uncomfortable about wiring the NHS into the debate; having kept a beady eye on the manoeuvrings of the EU for some time I felt that the bloc’s very nature and direction when exposed should have been enough to win the vote. In retrospect the slogan was genius. Get something that everyone feels strongly about. Make it controversial to raise the emotional stakes. Then sit back with a smile and watch as outraged Remainers spend all their time and energy focusing on it’s ‘only’ £250million, not £350million a week.
As we close in on 2020, they’re still doing it.
It made me think: if we are approaching a time and place where another bus (metaphorical or otherwise) is required, what would I put on it?
I have to admit to being something of a bore about Brexit. I’m one of those folks who still likes to debate about it, and follow all the latest news from across a broad media output. In my social circle, comprising 30s/40s professionals in the Home Counties, I’m very much the odd one out being a Brexiteer. But I still like to talk about it, usually with the get-out clause that ‘only idiots fall out over politics’.
I have come to put the Remainers I cross swords with into three boxes:
The Hardcore, Europhilic to the core, who believe that remaining is the only way forwards for this country regardless.
The Vitriolic, liable to break down in tears and scream at anyone who voted to leave. Really best not to engage with after drinking tequila at 3am, if at all.
The Worried, fed on a relentless diet of fear for four years and as a result have developed an allergy to anything in which hope and optimism might be ingredients.
It’s the last set that interest me most, viz:
Sitting outside a pub one late summer evening, a leafy lane, tasty beer, hearty laughs. The shadow of Brexit falls . . .
Me: So what’s the big problem with leaving?
Worried Remainer: The EU accounts for almost half of our trade!
Me: Ok, half of our trade. What’s that in terms of GDP?
WR: . . . What?
Me: You know, our gross domestic product – how much we as a country make and sell in a year?
WR: I don’t know. Why should I know that?
Me: Well, if it’s half of our trade, does that make half of our GDP? or less?
WR: . . . I dunno, not half, maybe 40 per cent?
Me: Ok, so if we do leave without a deal, how much of that trade will be affected? Bearing in mind companies in the EU sell us more than we do them by £65billion, is all of that business just going to stop overnight?
WR: No, that would be stupid . . .
Me: So, what – a 10, 20 per cent reduction maybe, for a short period?
WR: Well, that sounds more realistic, yes.
Me: So let’s say roughly 8 per cent of our GDP then?
WR: Yes, that’s a lot.
Me: It is. But what if I told you that trade with the EU is only about 12 per cent of our GDP in the first place, not 40 per cent?
WR: That’s rubbish.
Me: In 2018 our total GDP was £2.4trillion. Our sales to the EU were £290billion.
WR: (doing the maths) That can’t be right, it’s nearly half of our trade!
ME: No, only half of what we export; 75 per cent of our economy is internal, UK companies trading with UK companies.
WR: . . .
I’ve had this conversation more or less verbatim maybe 50 times over the last three years. With people like myself, educated working professionals; people in managerial roles within law and commerce.
I don’t blame them if, as it seems, Dominic Cummings’s plan board had the NHS at the heart. The Remainers’ equivalent line at the centre has been ‘half of our trade’. Even now it’s oft repeated in the Remain-influenced media, but rarely challenged.
It’s proved a clever and successful strategy, because whilst it’s not strictly telling mistruths it has become a convenient device with which to breed fear.
Now my simple POV may well be a gross oversimplification, and I am aware that there are tightly linked supply chains that go back and forth which will raise the impact higher than the base numbers suggest.
But this conversation happens. A lot. And when we do once again find ourselves on the winding path to the voting booth, the Worried Remainers need to be the biggest target. They will be standing in the sweet spot when the speakers pumping out fear start their onslaught again.
And breaking down the lowest common denominators of their fear may be the only way to bring them onside. Why not start with this ‘fact’ being actively challenged and debated?
My campaign bus message?
It’s not half!*
*only 12 per cent of our trade by GDP is with the EU. Go on, look it up.
What’s on yours?