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The EU Referendum

A War of Propaganda

The EU Referendum on 23 June 2016 is hailed as the most significant date in recent history for the UK. It is decision-day, to remain in the EU, or to leave. It’s an IN/OUT choice, binary; an A/B Test at its core.

However, the reality of the situation is much more complex. There is a spectrum between in and out, ranging from all in (which we aren’t at the moment) to all out with a few options in between which are quoted as ‘ideals’ by the leave campaign, such as the Norwegian model or the Swiss model.

A War of Words

In reality, these are distortions of the facts that reveal the ‘campaign’ (whichever side you listen to) is more about propaganda than actual information allowing the British public to make an informed decision. Recent polls emphasize this showing that those who seek out information and read broadsheets (e.g. FT, Times, etc) predominantly back the remain campaign, while those who support the leave campaign are predominantly those who kowtow to the rhetoric of the Leave campaigners and read the tabloids (which echo the same scaremongering).

Whichever way we vote, the senior politicians’ lives will remain relatively unchanged. They will keep being politicians in their elected positions, earning their (often) generous remunerations, benefiting from all sorts of perks of the job, and continuing to travel extensively and benefit from all sorts of tax breaks the rest of us don’t have access to. Whether we vote to remain or leave will have no effect on the people who are trying to sway us one way or the other. “They” have nothing to lose. We, on the other hand, do.

A recent leaflet for the leave campaign that I have seen posted on the internet states “there are 1.7 million potholes in Wales (or 35 million potholes in Britain depending on which one you receive), but your money is being spent on bridges like this in Greece.” Back in February, the Express ran an editorial on this claiming that research by the leave campaign had shown this gross oversight and so justified support for the leave campaign.

Balancing the Books

A fellow called Dr Nick Roesen did some research and found that the Rio-Antirrio bridge cost 630m euro, 47% funded by a loan from the European Investment Bank (source: the economist). The same bank is funding £280m for expansion of facilities at UCL, £700m funding for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, and £360m funding towards the smart meter rollout by British Gas. This is all part of a £16b investment in British projects over the last 3 years (Crossrail, Manchester Metrolink etc.) (source:, Wikipedia).

The message is clear — the flyer is pure propaganda as it deliberately distorts the facts in favour of a purely emotional response.

I have seen this approach used by both sides throughout the campaign and it is sad that the only way to get a decision on such a crucial issue is to bamboozle the general public into a decision through fear of what the alternatives may bring.

Too Complex to Call?

When you look into the complexities of the problem it is hard to imagine the general public being in a position to be informed sufficiently to make a choice. There are so many factors, from the economy to the law (employment, intellectual property, data protection, etc) to immigration (and emigration) to the environment.

For example, if we want to continue to trade in Europe we will still be expected to abide by the EU rules yet have no say in them. And if we decide to leave and start significantly altering our laws we may be rejected as a potential trade partner by other countries in the EU (and potentially worldwide). This piece by John Oliver sums it up nicely, but if you don’t have 15 minutes right now skip over to the rest of this article …

Let’s look at the ‘Norway Model’ which is often quoted as a good option by the leave campaign. It’s a country that is independent yet still has access to and benefits from the EU. One thing the Leave campaign doesn’t tell you about Norway is the cost of living. In summary, the cost-of-living in the UK is 20–30% cheaper than in Norway. So, if we adopt the ‘Norway Model’ does that mean we can expect everything to get more expensive? Yes — even the economists are all saying this; for example, fresh produce is expected to be the first to increase by up to 11%. There are other, more subtle downsides also.

Europe is also not one entity in itself. Europe (as a continent) encompasses parts of Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Iceland, Spain, France, etc. It’s big. But that’s only a map showing a boundary. There are multiple internal political groupings (supranational European bodies to be precise) which include the Council of Europe, the Schengen Area, the European Economic Area (EEA), the Eurozone, the European Union and the EU Customs Union along with 11 (yes, eleven) smaller sub-groupings and extensions. Within this framework, what exactly is ‘IN’ and what exactly is ‘OUT’? How do we know that what we think we are voting for and what we get are the same thing? Fifty shades of grey seems a good metaphor. (No, not the book.)

Safety in Numbers

I see the markets slowing, investment in the UK put on hold and the general business climate become one of ‘wait and see’. Housing has slowed, in part because of the additional stamp duty on investment properties, but people are saying they are postponing major buying decisions because of the referendum. Prices have dropped and the pound has weakened. Some international guests of my restaurants are also suggesting a crash in the pound very soon. The sentiment is not good.

As part of a collective group of countries (740 million people as a continent, 514 million in the EEA, 338 million in the Eurozone) we have strength. To the outside world (the emerging tigers on the world stage) this is an attractive market to do business with (it’s the largest group of its kind on the planet). As a sole trader with a market of 64 million (53 million in England in case we fragment further), we have less bargaining power at the same table. The tigers will offer us take-it-or-leave-it deals where we won’t benefit from the preferential rates of our collective neighbours. Since most of what we actually buy is imported from outside the EU — our consumer goods, clothes, etc — I think we can only expect to see prices rise as 64 million is less attractive to the tigers than 338 million.

And if our independence costs us our house then I do not think the people will go gently into the night. Not to mention your choice of cars may well change along with your consumer goods.

I’ll leave you with this genius piece from The Guardian and Patrick Stewart (et al) which riffs off the Monty Python “What have the Romans ever done for us” sketch.

Your decision counts for our future and the future our children inherit. Let’s make the right one.

Originally published at on June 18, 2016.



Ed’s thoughts on world-spanning matters from climate to tech to politics and beyond.

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