As was always inevitable, the EU referendum is shaping up to be a straight fight between the alleged economic costs of leaving and the politics of immigration; and as was always equally inevitable, it is the perceived threat to people’s pockets which is winning the argument.
Yet in so doing, it is ripping the Tory Party apart, threatening a deeply unstable and divided administration when normal government resumes after June 23. You cannot go around accusing your cabinet colleagues, as well as two former Chancellors, of “economic illiteracy” – as George Osborne did on Monday – without lasting political damage.
David Cameron hopes to lead a government of “national reconciliation” after winning the campaign, or more implausibly still, even after losing it. Yet the more likely outcome is a government of bickering recrimination, stripped bare of any remaining authority and natural majority. Lack of a credible Labour alternative will allow the Tories to stagger on, but the referendum is most unlikely to be the cathartic moment imagined.
After a period of level pegging, the latest polls show the “Remain” campaign drawing ahead. This has happened sooner than I would have expected; with more than two months to go before polling day, the “inners” may have peaked too early. Yet it is happening for entirely predictable reasons which are exactly the same as those that caused Scots, after a close run campaign, to vote against independence.
People have been warned of the likely negative economic consequences of divorce, and they have taken note. This ought to come as no surprise. The Remain campaign has the full weight of the state behind it, as well as the overwhelming support of the international economic and political establishment to fall back on. The cards have always been heavily stacked against the “Outers”, despite some big political hitters to their name.