When one reads British conservative and Eurosceptic websites, one can be struck by a common theme that runs through them. This is the assumption that the great majority of British people are very strongly opposed to further participation in the European Union, and will definitely vote for withdrawal, if given the opportunity.
Whilst I admit winning a Yes To Remain vote is a challenge, I’m not convinced that a vote to withdraw is the absolute in-the-bank result many eurosceptics seem to believe. Consider, for example, Yougov’s April poll, which gave a 43%-35% lead to those advocating withdrawal. Pretty depressing stuff for pro-Europeans, you’d think, but I’m not sure.
The fact that in THE most Eurosceptic country in the EU, in a country where nearly every newspaper is opposed to EU membership, over a third of voters are STILL pro-EU, before a campaign even starts, is extraordinary.
Then add in the campaign itself, with the prime minister coming back from Brussels with some (admittedly modest) reforms, but then mounting a Stay In campaign with EVERY living former prime minister? This thing could be much closer.
Now, supposing it’s a narrow Yes to remain, say, 53% on a turnout of 55%. What now for the eurosceptics? Will they demand a second vote, suddenly discovering a deep and profound respect for the Irish constitution?
Because let us not underestimate exactly how beneath the political waterline such a result will hole them. They have built an entire political movement, an ethos even, on the idea that the British people were tricked in 1975, and that the EU now is a bastardised conspiracy going far further than that which was mandated in Harold Wilson’s referendum.
But a Yes vote wipes that whole slate clean.
I genuinely think we may see an outbreak of psychological and emotional breakdown on the No side if such an event were to occur. Bear in mind, this isn’t just a victory for the hated Brussels. This is a betrayal by the people of glorious Albion themselves. A Yes vote will devastate the image many eurosceptics have of Britain and the British.
Indeed, the more extreme elements may even start talk of a coup, as they did during the chaotic days of the 1970s, believing their values represented the real Britain and therefore overruled the mere votes of the riff-raff. Will they start drawing lines around areas that voted for withdrawal, for example, and start demanding that those areas should be permitted leave? Mad stuff, I know, but these are the people who talk of EUSSR and the Fourth Reich.
Let us be clear. A vote to withdraw will be respected by Parliament, the government, and Britain’s European partners.
But that also means that a vote to remain most be respected by the eurosceptics, and I’m not sure they’ve prepared themselves for that. The NHS would have to be ready.