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16 June 2016

EU Referendum Briefing: Thoughts from the Chairman

Government Affairs

The BBC has invited me to appear on David Dimbleby’s EU Referendum night programme. They have offered me the midnight to 1am slot. If this were a General Election night this would be ‘prime time’. The constituency results would be pouring in and the overall picture on how the nation had decided would be emerging.

This will not be the case on referendum night. There is no pattern of relevant results on which to base forecasts. Counting will be slower. There will be more recounts. We may not know the result until well into the morning of Friday 24th June. The BBC’s offer of a prime slot to a non-descript crossbench Peer looks a lot less flattering than at first sight.

It beggars belief that we are having a referendum on the EU. Referenda should be limited to issues of conscience. We elect Members of Parliament to make all other decisions on our behalf and kick them out if we lose confidence.

David Cameron offered a referendum in order to stop the Tories ‘banging on about Europe’ and to reunite the party. So much for that! The referendum campaign has been characterised by intensive ‘blue on blue’ confrontation and words that will not be easily forgotten. David Cameron’s grip on the Conservative leadership diminishes day by day.

It has not been much better for Labour which has unashamedly stood back from voicing a strong opinion. It has been content to see the Conservatives engage in self-harm and conceal its support for Remain in order to avoid alienating traditional working class supporters on the subject of migration.

It defeats me how David Cameron could have told us earlier this year that there was real possibility of him campaigning for Exit, only for him now to be raising the spectre of war and economic depression. If he really believes these risks he cannot possibly defend conceding a referendum to simply fend off the political risk of UKIP and silence, for a short while, twenty or so rabid eurosceptics in his own party.

I will be voting for Remain. Cutting through a gross misuse of statistics, by both sides, the economic case for Remain is strong. Exit will inevitably lead to lower trade and economic activity for a period of time. Investment and consumption will reflect lower confidence. The extent and duration of this setback will depend on ‘known unknowns’ – we are completely in the dark on what Exit will mean in terms of trade. An Exited United Kingdom would have no increase in ‘sovereignty’ as we already enjoy substantial opt-outs. Globalisation and memberships of organisations such as the UN and NATO are examples of the reality of qualified sovereignty.

Migration will not necessarily change as a result of Exit and our bargaining power with the EU would be very circumscribed. Above all we would lose our voice in the world and will have been party to undermining, possibly fatally, an EU which has contributed to peace and the consolidation of democracy in Europe.

So, I am a Remainer. But I have asked the BBC for the 6am slot!

Lord Paul Myners is the Chairman of Edelman in the UK, providing senior strategic counsel. He spent most of his professional career in fund management with N.M. Rothschild & Sons and Gartmore before chairing a number of major companies, including Guardian Media Group, Marks & Spencer and Land Securities. He has also experienced frontline politics, serving as City Minister in the Labour Government between 2008 and 2010. He was a trusted advisor to Gordon Brown over many years.

Edelman has prepared a full briefing on key issues in the lead up to the vote next week, to read it please click here. For more information, please contact Gurpreet Brar on 020 3047 2466 or at gurpreet.brar@edelman.com.

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