The British public have taken very little interest to date in Prime Minister Cameron’s renegotiations with Britain’s European Union (EU) partners in advance of a likely Brexit referendum later this year. However, with key European meetings looming soon it is likely that within the next few months Cameron will have got some form of deal and will declare it as a diplomatic victory for Britain.
In my post on events in 2016 I predicted that the British public will vote to leave the EU on the back of the on-going migration crisis and the involvement of influential political and financial figures in the Leave campaign. Opinion polls published suggest a high degree of volatility with public attitudes towards the EU, with a third of voters committed to leaving, a similar percentage committed to staying and the rest open to persuasion.
For the Leave campaign to win in the referendum it needs a clear, consistent strategy to combat the Operation Fear Mark II from the ‘In’ camp which will try and terrify the British people to vote to stay in the Union. To do that, the Leave campaign needs to persuade the public that the risks of staying within the EU are higher than the risks of leaving. A key aspect of this challenge is finding a political ‘big beast’ who can lead the Leave campaign.
Public opinion polls suggest that Boris Johnson has the charisma, political skills and ability to connect with the ordinary voter on this key national matter and would be able to persuade the floating centre of ‘not sure’ voters that leaving the EU will be in Britain’s national interest. The Home Secretary Theresa May, whilst not as charismatic as Boris, has the gravitas to command public respect and lead a Leave campaign on an economic and security agenda.
To summarise, the majority of the British public would like to leave the EU, but are worried about the negative economic consequences of leaving the Union. Only a major political figure with strong communication skills, like Boris Johnson or Theresa May, can fill the political vacuum and lead the Leave campaign. If these political heavyweights don’t take this historic opportunity and lead the Leave campaign, then it is much more likely that a risk-averse public will end up voting to stay in the EU.