Cameron needs to pull finger out or he’ll lose EU vote

by Hugo Dixon | 08.04.2016

The Panama Papers, the government’s Brexit pamphlet, Port Talbot and disability benefits have all undermined David Cameron. The prime minister is still an asset for the Remain camp, perhaps its biggest. But, if this carries on, he’ll become a liability.

Cameron, who was riding high after last year’s electoral triumph, was always likely to lose popularity. Mid-term blues are a regular feature of parliamentary cycles. The twist is that the beneficiary of the government’s mishaps is not the official opposition, the Labour Party. It is the Leave camp.

The tragedy is that some of these issues, such as The Panama Papers and the disability benefits saga, have nothing to do with the referendum. In other cases, the Leave camp has twisted the government’s errors to give the wrong impression that we’d be better off quitting the EU.

Panama Papers

Cameron looked shifty by putting out a series of half denials before admitting on April 7 that he had benefited from an offshore trust. There’s nothing illegal in this. But the PM’s credibility has been dented. That will make him a less effective champion for the Remain camp. It has also meant that the government hasn’t been able to get out any positive messages this week on why we should stay in the EU. It has been consumed with fire-fighting.

Brexit pamphlet

The government’s leaflet makes a strong case for remaining in the EU. InFacts checked out 18 key claims and found them valid. However, the decision to send the pamphlet out to every home in the country at a cost of £9 million has been easily portrayed as giving the Remain camp an unfair advantage. As a result, what should have been a strong message has backfired.

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Port Talbot

The threatened closure of the Port Talbot steel works made the government look incompetent. The industry secretary, Sajid Javid, took most of the flak for not being on top of the issue. Meanwhile, the Leave camp used spurious arguments to suggest we’d be better able to support our steel industry if we quit the EU. The main problem with the steel industry is Chinese dumping. We are far better able to tackle that by imposing tough anti-dumping tariffs at an EU level than by leaving the bloc and fighting China, which is much bigger than us, solo. The snag is that Cameron hasn’t been able to make this point because Britain has been arguing against swingeing anti-dumping tariffs in Brussels, partly because it has been so keen to suck up to Beijing.

Disability benefits

George Osborne was in the firing line for this cock-up. The Chancellor looked heartless for  cutting disability benefits at the same time that he was reducing taxes. That matters because he was the second most important pro-Remain campaigner in the government, after Cameron.

With both Batman and Robin battling self-inflicted injuries, the Jokers of the Leave camp are having a field day.

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)

Edited by Sebastian Mallaby

3 Responses to “Cameron needs to pull finger out or he’ll lose EU vote”

  • The problem is that David Cameron is being mud smeared about his father’s arrangements ( which were perfectly legal) and lumped with the problems of other Ministers in his Government. This point is illustrated in this article which is ready to blame him if the EU vote is lost. That is very far from the truth. If the EU vote is lost, the fault will lie on two opposing forces. On the one hand Tory backbenchers/ defecting Tory Ministers and Boris Humpty-Dumptery. And on the other lefties and the bolshy young who’d rather sacrifice their support of European solidarity and a community of nations if the alternative is tripping up a Tory Government, even one led by someone who is much more of a one-nation person than all the other possible Tory alternatives. So while you’ll hear accusations of hypocrisy, the real hypocrites are the folk pointing the finger – left, right and centre.

  • Beware of mission creep. We are transforming InFacts to InOpinions and should be prepared for the onslaught of Cyberbrexit that may result.

    The problem with Port Talbot was Chinese steel dumping. We could ask whether Port Talbot would be in any less trouble if, instead of being Indian, its owner had been from another EU member state. Brexit have an argument on Port Talbot but it is not that we could have saved it by leaving the EU. What happened was that, given the chance to save Port Talbot, the EU failed to work together.

    Why was that? Sajid Javid was a late convert to Remain having been touted as a senior on the Leave side per the Financial Times on 26.02.16. Port Talbot has been ongoing since long before 26.02.16 when Sajid Javid was a devout Eurosceptic. That seems to me a bit like M Thatcher’s warm welcome to the A10 which moved the EU from 15 pretty similar members to 25 very diverse members (now 28). The seeds of overstretching the EU were in each case very carefully laid to reap the harvest of undermining confidence in it.