Andrew Cook: Referendum critics should show David Cameron some respect

Criticism of David Cameron's referendum strategy is misguided, argues Andrew Cook.
Criticism of David Cameron's referendum strategy is misguided, argues Andrew Cook.
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MAY I provide some counter-balance to the criticism levelled at the Prime Minister over the handling of the EU referendum?

Both the Conservative and Labour parties have their powerful fringes. A large body of opinion in this country recoils, understandably, at the concept of being governed from Brussels.

This body of opinion can be found to a significant degree within the grass roots of both the major parties.

It is a fact that the Conservative and Labour parties are broad churches. Just as the former contains its right-wing element, so does Labour its extreme left.

Both, I suggest, are out of touch with reality.

Yet both have political power and influence.

It is the job of the party leaders to address this, and, if they are in government, to ensure the balance and common sense required to govern in the interests of the country as a whole are not compromised.

It is for this reason that David Cameron called the referendum on membership of the EU.

Wisely, he reasoned that the issue had to be brought out into the open, properly debated and put to the British people to decide. Over the past weeks this has been happening.

The debate has been intensive and, as in any political campaign, there have been some distortions of the facts; most notably by the ‘Leave’ camp.

Throughout, the Prime Minister has kept his head and addressed the many attacks on him and his case for ‘Remain’, with clear reasoning and good humour. He should be admired for his courage and tenacity, not denigrated and abused.

Local issues can often dominate local opinion, which can make it difficult for MPs and their constituents to see the bigger picture.

If immigration, in any form, historic or otherwise, is a local issue, wider argument will struggle to counter it.

Because of this, it needs a statesman and communicator to explain the facts to the people.

Margaret Thatcher and Sir Winston Churchill were both good at this, as were Labour’s Harold Wilson and Tony Blair, and the USA’s President Reagan.

David Cameron has done a good job fulfilling this role. He has been widely accused of ‘scaremongering’. But I say to you, if you tell someone that if they cross the road without looking, they might be run over and killed, is that scaremongering or just telling the truth?

It is not scaremongering to suggest that if Britain excludes itself from a prosperous market of 500 million people, for the Single Market is exactly that, it is likely to suffer an economic downturn.

Nor is it scaremongering to point out that if Britain thinks it can be like Norway and continue to enjoy free trade with the EU, it has to accept the EU’s open border rules. To which I should add “and be prepared to pay £5 for a pint of milk and £10 for a pint of beer”, these being the price of such staples in that country.

Speaking of which, perhaps the ‘Leavers’ should note that the fact that we still use pints, the pound sterling, miles and so on is due to Britain’s determination to retain its national identity and characteristics, as well as its financial independence – things the Prime Minister has striven hard to defend and pledged to continue to defend.

David Cameron is widely admired among my business friends in Continental Europe, often in preference to their domestic leaders. They see him as the leader of resistance and opposition to the much distrusted and unelected bureaucratic elite.

The prospect of a ‘Leave’ vote depriving them of his leadership in EU councils dismays them.

Like so many British voters, me included, they have no enthusiasm for the bloated EU bureaucracy. But these business friends, men and women, are pragmatists. They employ many people, making things and providing services.

They view the Single Market as the greatest individual benefit of the EU, outweighing all the disadvantages. I share that view.

I believe the June 23 referendum is the most important political event this country has faced for a generation. I freely admit that a ‘Leave’ vote is likely to adversely affect my business and the jobs of the 400 people I employ in Yorkshire alone. It is also a one-way decision.

Unlike a General Election where the Government can be changed after five years, the referendum decision is once and for all. It cannot be reversed. In my view, the evidence in support of voting ‘Remain’ is overwhelming.

But if, as certain polls may suggest, voters are disposed to choose otherwise, I suggest they pause, ask themselves whether they really want to risk their jobs and consider who they would prefer to be Prime Minister of this country.

Vote ‘Leave’, and they could find themselves faced with some ugly choices.

Andrew Cook is chairman of William Cook Holdings Ltd and treasurer of Conservatives IN.