Brexit campaigners are bully boys who behave like gangsters

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The debate surrounding Britain’s future relationship with Europe must be wide-ranging and forward-thinking, encompassing voices from all sections of society.

"Vote Leave did not have a launch event, have produced no independent evidence to support their economic arguments and have a narrow campaign of seasoned insiders and Maastricht rebels"

Rather than seeking to promote debate, however, the leave campaigns are now desperately trying to shut it down and muzzle those who take a different view. They are behaving like gangsters, trying to close down the debate with behaviour that has no place in public life.

In their repeated attacks on the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), trying to force the organisation’s hand and sit out of this debate, Vote Leave’s is making a concerted attempt to stifle the views of some of the country’s largest businesses. Protests outside the CBI conference, disrupting speeches, aggressive letters - these bully boy tactics are a sign they are losing the argument rather than embracing it.

I am not defending any single institution, but rather the right of every interested party to make their case in this referendum, regardless of their views.

In the past week the various out campaigns have put aside their divisions to highlight a unifying feature: an inability to say clearly what "out" looks like. Their claims to be able to end free movement, cease all budget contributions, repatriate responsibility for economic regulation and concurrently retain full access to the single market have been shown to be utterly bogus.

The Governor of the Bank of England has outlined the economic benefits of our access to the single market. The US and China have both said they would prefer to trade with the UK as part of the EU. Standard and Poor’s have said that "Brexit" could weaken our credit rating, which could lead to public spending cuts.

The emperor of the leave campaign – that Britain would prosper by standing alone from our largest trading partner – has been shown to have no clothes more rapidly and powerfully in this debate than many expected.

The response has not been a credible articulation of our trading future outside the EU and how this may benefit communities from London to Lancashire to West Lothian, but bully boy tactics reminiscent of past campaigns. Business voices perceived to be on the "wrong side" are aggressively pursued rather without any attempt at persuasion.

Not only is this profoundly undemocratic, it is tellingly insecure of a campaign so young. Vote Leave did not have a launch event, have produced no independent evidence to support their economic arguments and have a narrow campaign of seasoned insiders and Maastricht rebels.

This lack of breadth in their personnel and lack of confidence in their message must derive from an argument of equal limitations.

"The undecided and the committed on either side of the referendum debate must be permitted to be vociferous in their views"

British businesses have a unique voice in this campaign because they have unique insight. Their decisions are influenced by Europe and in turn influence the futures of families across the country. Businesses large and small have a duty to explore and communicate the impact of trade and non-trade barriers that would arise if Britain were to remain in Europe or walk away, just as they must say how decisions over employment, wage-setting and investment would be affected by "Brexit" or by a reformed European Union.

The "business voice" should not be confined to any one body and must be as pluralistic as the many talents that British businesses nurture. The undecided and the committed on either side of the referendum debate must be permitted to be vociferous in their views and demanding of all campaigns to make a convincing case.

Vote Leave’s clear refusal to accept this is surely evidence that it knows it cannot win on merit alone.