‘Vote Leave’ now need the EEA step to reassure voters

With polls becoming very tight and a flurry of them showing Leave in the lead, on Wednesday (8th June) the Evening Standard quoted MEP Daniel Hannan who had spoken in the newspaper’s own debate, hosted with London First.

Here is what Hannan said (emphasis added):

“If Leave wins by a tiny amount, I think that wouldn’t be any kind of mandate for a completely separate policy,” he said.
“We would have to accept half the country has voted for the status quo and that therefore although there would be a moderate repatriation of power and more control over our money and our borders and so on, we would have to maintain quite a lot of the existing dispensation, I think that would be the way of interpreting that result.”
“The implication would be that we would stay close to the single market. Changes on migration would be phased in. It would be a very gradual process.”

We can argue over what Hannan meant by winning by a “tiny amount”, but after his book, ‘Why Vote Leave’, which had already laid a trail of breadcrumbs to an initial EEA/EFTA solution, the Hannan message is becoming ever clearer.

He basically agrees we need an initial withdrawal to EEA/EFTA and a very careful and managed further detachment after that. Changes to migration policy will only be enacted as part of a longer process of disengagement, but in the initial step, there will be little change.

I am absolutely delighted to have such a senior and respected figure associated with Vote Leave on board. He is also joined by Kwarsi Kwarteng MP who, speaking at a small conference during the week, made clear he also favours the EEA step. And let us not forget Dr Andrew Lilico (of Economists for Brexit) who has long accepted that the EEA will be an obvious step in the process of disengagement.

Now, as is customary whenever this point comes up, a load of Remainers jump up and “worry” about letting down Leave voters over free movement. They do this by neatly side-stepping the transitory nature of the EEA step, in a wider plan of disengagement hammered out with the rest of the EU.

But it has to be admitted that there are also some in the Leave movement who would be deeply suspicious and may even feel betrayed by the British Government taking such a step. The Evening Standard article about Hannan’s comments even notes a UKIP spokesman as saying:

“Daniel is speaking for his own view on a hypothetical situation. But it’s not a position that’s being discussed across the broad Leave campaign and it’s not Nigel’s (Farage) position.”

However in all my online engagements discussing this point about the EEA step being a ‘betrayal of leavers’ (to which I have a longer answer), I have the sense that there is a substantial vein of opinion on the Leave side who are not at all upset by the prospect of such a move. Indeed those Leavers who are concerned are drowned out by the Remainers stressing about it on Leavers’ behalf.

The only poll that has come close to gauging this particular point is an Ipsos-Mori poll for Newsnight some weeks ago that identified 20% of Leave voters who would indeed support staying in the single market.

I suspect Daniel Hannan, who has been doing this stuff for a long time, can sense the 20% of Leavers in his audiences and in his many conversations. He will know that those voters and similarly ‘moderate’ voters can & will make all the difference between winning and losing. Without them, Leave may end up in the low forties percent. With them, Leave can get over the line and win.

The EEA transition stance also has the added benefit of derisking the actual exit from EU membership thus potentially attracting more voters who are hesitating over the economics of exit. And further, that Remainers really shouldn’t be attempting to attack the EEA move as though the EEA were the destination, not least because they end up saying there is NO viable exit from the EU— this is the EU-as-a-prison theme.

There is also the added consideration that behind all the noise, there is a sense that the Conservative Party and also the nation as whole will need to be reunified after such a bruising campaign. Only a move to an EEA position can provide the platform for such unity. No other outcome will, which is why some Conservative figures are being deeply irresponsible shouting anew about exiting the single market after several Remain voices had noted that the House of Commons arithmetic pointed to a single market-based Leave solution.

So I think we are entering a new field of play here. And one which will further shake up a Remain campaign that looks increasingly on the backfoot.