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Britain's chances of leaving Europe are higher than you think

The forces of In are in bigger trouble than they realise.

Out of one campaign and straight into another. David Cameron's re-election has effectively kicked off the campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. But it's the forces of Out that have started early. Graeme MacDonald tells the Guardian it would be better to leave the EU rather than stay in an unreformed Union:

I think it would be, because I really don’t think it would make a blind bit of difference to trade with Europe. There has been far too much scaremongering about things like jobs. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to stop trade. I don’t think we or Brussels will put up trade barriers.”

Of course, the overwhelming number of banks and large businesses remain opposed to Britain leaving the European Union. It remains the case that, in so far as you can generalise, the view of British business is "better off in". 

But the Out campaign doesn't need the support of a majority or even close to 50 per cent of British businesses. It needs enough to muddy the waters, to allow its proxies to appear on television and describe the business community as "divided". "One in ten - and it's far more than that - will do," in the words of one senior member of the Out campaign in utero. 

As I've written before, the campaign to leave the European Union has already been quietly assembled. The playbook will be the same as No to AV: Conservative money, a few Labour figureheads, and a wide variety of "apolitical" talking heads and campaigners. The In campaign, however, is still divided. Some believe that the best hope for victory is to make it a referendum on Nigel Farage. Others say that the Better Together operation - a largely passionless focus on the risks of exit - is the one to emulate. 

But there are problems with both approaches. However much the In campaign might wish it, Farage will not be the face of the Out campaign in the country at large. And Better Together had the advantage of a sympathetic media that wrote up the interventions from George Osborne, Gordon Brown, the Bank of England, the big supermarkets and other notable institutions entirely sympathetically. It seems highly unlikely that the In campaign will recieve the same treatment from the Mail and the Sun. 

At time of writing, a tenner on Britain leaving Europe gets you thirty quid. That looks like a depressingly good bet to me.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The government's air quality plan at a glance

This plan is largely a plan to make more plans.

Do you plan on living in a small, rural hamlet for the next 23 years? Or postponing having children till 2040? For this is when the government intends to ban all new petrol and diesel cars (and vans) - the headline measure in its latest plan to tackle the UK's air pollution crisis.

If the above lifestyle does not appeal, then you had better hope that your local authority is serious about addressing air quality in your area, because central government will not be taking responsibility for other restrictions on vehicle use before this date. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband has tweeted that he fears the ban is a “smokescreen” for the weakness of the wider measures. 

Here’s an overview of what the new Air Quality plan means for you (Health Warning: not much yet).

Will the 2040 ban end cars?

No. Headlines announcing the “end of the diesel and petrol car” can sound a pretty terminal state of affairs. But this is only a deadline for the end of producing “new” fossil-fuel burning vehicles. There is no requirement to take older gas-guzzlers (or their petrol-head drivers) off the road. Plus, with car companies like Volvo promising to go fully electric or hybrid by 2019, the ban is far from motoring’s end of the road.

So what does the new plan entail?

This plan is largely a plan to make more plans. It requires local authorities to submit their own initial schemes for tackling the issue by the end of March 2018 and will provide a £255 million Implementation Fund to support this process. Interventions could include retrofitting bus fleets, improving concessionary travel, supporting cyclists, and re-thinking road infrastructure.  Authorities can then bid for further money from a competitive Clean Air Fund.

What more could be done to make things better, faster?

According to the government’s own evidence, charges for vehicles entering clean air zones are the most effective way of reducing air pollution in urban areas. Yet speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Michael Gove described the idea as a “blunt instrument” that will not be mandatory.

So it will be down to local authorities to decide how firm they wish to be. London, for instance, will be introducing a daily £10 “T-charge” on up to 10,000 of the most polluting vehicles.

Does the 2040 deadline make the UK a world leader?

In the government’s dreams. And dreamy is what Gove must have been on his Radio 4 appearance this morning. The minister claimed that was in Britain a “position of global leadership” in technology reform. Perhaps he was discounting the fact that French President Emmanuel Macron also got there first? Or that India, Norway and the Netherlands have set even earlier dates. As WWF said in a press statement this morning: “Whilst we welcome progress in linking the twin threats of climate change and air pollution, this plan doesn’t look to be going fast or far enough to tackle them.”

Will the ban help tackle climate change?

Possibly. Banning petrol and diesel cars will stop their fumes from being released in highly populated city centres. But unless the new electric vehicles are powered with energy from clean, renewable sources (like solar or wind), then fossil fuels will still be burned at power plants and pollute the atmosphere from there. To find out how exactly the government plans to meet its international commitments on emissions reduction, we must wait for the 2018 publication of its wider Clean Air Strategy.

Will the plans stand up to legal scrutiny?

They're likely to be tested. ClientEarth has been battling the government in court over this issue for years now. It’s CEO, James Thornton, has said: “We’re looking forward to examining the government’s detailed plans, but the early signs seem to suggest they’ve still not grasped the urgency of this public health emergency.”

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.