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With the EU Referendum voting day of June 23rd fast approaching and the official registration window now closed, it’s worth taking a step back and exploring just who the big players are on either side of the EU Referendum campaign and what they’ve been saying in their campaign for a ‘Remain’ vote or a ‘Brexit’.
One of the most prominent figures supporting the ‘Remain’ camp in the EU Referendum is the Prime Minister himself, David Cameron. The PM and the Conservative Party were at least partly elected in the 2015 General Election on the promise of holding a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU, but ever since the election, the PM has been vigorously campaigning against the prospect of a ‘Brexit’, dividing his party and the public in the process.
Strengths: Highlighting the economic consequences of a ‘Brexit’. Weaknesses: Talking about immigration – this is a major sticking point with the PM and his administration, particularly as the ‘Out’ campaign have repeatedly capitalised on the missed election target promises also made by Cameron.
Rarely seen away from the PM’s side has been fellow Conservative, Chancellor George Osborne. Although Osborne’s most potent source of persuasion, the Treasury Department, has now been silenced by the Purdah period, the Chancellor has nonetheless been hammering home the economic repercussions of taking a gamble and departing from the multi-national union.
Strengths: Providing (very) detailed Treasury reports about the cost of a ‘Leave’ vote. Weaknesses: Visiting workplaces while campaigning – the Chancellor is somewhat notorious for his ‘have-a-go with a hardhat’ image.
Heading the official ‘Remain’ campaign, Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE), has been Stuart Rose, former head of Marks and Spencer and prominent figure among the retail sector. Although Rose has been a somewhat distant figurehead of late, he has nonetheless been able to put across specific arguments as to why a ‘Brexit’ might not be the best decision.
Strengths: Talking about what he knows – Rose has made a solid case for the ‘Remain’ vote among retailers, having pointed out the benefits of being able to trade within in the EU. Weaknesses: Remembering who he represents – Rose dropped some clangers early on in the campaign when he struggled to name BSIE as the group he supported.
Although he remains at loggerheads with the PM due to being Leader of the Opposition, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a fixture of the ‘Remain’ campaign, despite supposedly biased media coverage obscuring many of his speeches and efforts.
Strengths: Making a positive case for remaining part of the EU, something some of his Conservative counterparts have found difficult to get to grips with. Weaknesses: Timing – Corbyn has been repeatedly criticised for appearing half hearted in his commitment to the ‘Remain’ campaign and has additionally been pointed out as a historic Eurosceptic.
Former leaders from both the two main parties, Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, John Major and Gordon Brown have all thrown their lot in with the ‘Remain’ camp.
Strengths: Brown and Major’s strong cases for an ‘In’ vote, looking at what we have now and may not have after ‘Brexit’. Weaknesses: Tony Blair’s intervention – however well-intentioned, Blair’s reappearance in the world of politics remains controversial due to his connection to the long-awaited Chilcot report on the Iraq War.
From further north has been Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has focused her arguments on how educational institutions such as universities benefit from EU funding. Strengths: Adopting the same tone as Jeremy Corbyn and making positive, optimistic points. Weaknesses: As with Corbyn, Sturgeon has been unable to resist taking digs at the Conservative Party while campaigning, which detracts something from the argument.
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Possibly the most well-known and most widely reported on ‘Brexit’ campaigner has been Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, a vocal detractor of the institution of the EU. Johnson unexpectedly announced his support of the ‘Out’ vote in late-February and has been up and down the country ever since in his ‘battle bus’ campaigning for a ‘Brexit’.
Strengths: Enthusiasm – although his facts have often been called into question, Johnson is nothing if not an engaging speaker in the debate, having maintained a high public profile since his entry into the fray.
Weaknesses: Motivation – Johnson remains a problematic poster-boy for the ‘Leave’ movement, due to the unresolved concerns that taking an active role in the debate is merely a ploy to increase his public standing and ultimately seize leadership of the Conservative Party.
Standing on the same level as Johnson as a figurehead has been Conservative Justice Secretary and ‘Vote Leave’ Co-Chair Michael Gove, who has been a virtual counterpoint to David Cameron by identifying the problems with remaining a member of the European Union.
Strengths: Placating – against some fairly damning claims about what damage leaving the EU would do to the UK, Gove has put across a number of hopeful statements about UK trade remaining unabated in the EU after ‘Brexit’. Weaknesses: Economics – While Gove has made it his mission to put across a credible financial case for leaving the EU, more often than not these figures have failed to materialise, leading to the MP’s plans for a post-‘Brexit’ UK being called ‘Project Fantasy’ by detractors.
Possibly the most controversial ‘Leave’ figure has also been one of the longest supporters of a ‘Brexit’ – UKIP Leader Nigel Farage. Although not actually a member of the official Vote Leave group, Farage has still made his voice heard via another ‘Out’ organisation, Leave.EU.
Strengths: Migration – For all the infamy Farage has managed to accrue as leader of UKIP, he’s certainly proved able to galvanise voters on the hugely controversial subject of controlling immigration into the UK. Weaknesses: Tolerance – The most prevailing characterisation of Farage and his party as adopting racist attitudes remains strong among non UKIP supporters, and a recent argument that remaining in the EU could lead to Cologne-style sex attacks in the UK has done little to dispel this image.
As an example of how the EU Referendum debate has split political parties down the middle, the other half of Vote Leave’s leadership is Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who stands in staunch opposition to her party’s leader. Stuart has mainly made the case for leaving among Welsh voters, although she has also backed a number of questionable ‘Leave’ arguments.
Strengths: Making the case for Wales – Stuart’s case for Wales (and the UK) voting out has been that getting rid of EU laws will level the playing field between small and large companies. Weaknesses: The recent claim that VAT could be cut on fuel bills after a ‘Brexit’, which was supported by Stuart, has been widely panned due to no alternative being offered for the lost revenue.
Another notable figure of the debate has been ex-Conservative Leader Iain Duncan Smith, who made his ‘Brexit’ case by taking the angle of the PM being subservient to the demands of German politicians when negotiating EU Referendum terms.
Strengths: Playing to public concerns – for those already on the fence about the Referendum, the idea that the PM may not be ‘his own man’ is likely enough to tip these ‘floating voters’ into the ‘Out’ camp. Weaknesses: Claims – Smith has taken the unusual step of labelling fellow Conservative and Business Secretary Sajid Javid as a secret ‘Out’ supporter, an unusual claim that discredits his otherwise compelling argument.
Finally, a relatively recent entrant into the debate on the ‘Out’ side has been Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, whose case for leaving has consisted mainly of the fact that around 50 dangerous foreign criminals have yet to be deported from the UK owing to EU rules.
Strengths: His case – In addition to immigration being a contentious issue, the apparent fact that dangerous individuals are still in the nation’s prisons resonates powerfully among voters. Weaknesses: The facts – in response to Raab’s first real foray into the Referendum debate, Minister for Security and Immigration James Brokenshire pointed out that around 6,500 foreign criminals have been deported from the UK since 2010.
With the EU Referendum vote now only days away, any commentary from these key figures could be influential in helping undecided voters find where their loyalties lie. For more information about what impact the referendum has had on the UK or how it’s affecting Pound exchange rates, please check out the economy section of our blog.
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