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18 May 2015

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

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

By Stephen Bush

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. 

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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. 

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