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Thursday, 4 February 2016

Brexit: Memoirs of a Frustrated Interloper

In the first in a series of blogs on the EU Referendum, Alex Davies, Research Analyst at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, looks at some of the problems facing voters.

For most, the EU referendum debate is understandably obtuse and confusing. This is a real problem in such an important issue, because it limits our ability to make a truly free and informed decision. In this series of informal blog posts, I am going to dissect the nature of the debate itself and the various In/Out campaigns. This is as much to reveal misconceptions as it is to provide clarity, and in doing so I will do my absolute best to be equally as critical of arguments from both sides. The purpose of these blogs will be purely to stimulate thinking, raise questions and hopefully enable productive debate.

From a researcher’s point of view, tasked with summarising some of the main arguments from both sides, the most prominent feeling is sheer frustration. The usual course of action is to provide statistics to show both sides of the argument, but in the case of EU In/Out campaigns, the numbers mostly crumble under scrutiny. It seems that both sides are more interested in pandering to their supporters than engaging in any sort of detailed debate about the very real implications of the final result. It is because of this that most people’s positions are currently based upon a few issues which they have strong personal feelings towards- immigration being the most obvious and timely example. This kind of talk is effective in stirring emotions precisely because the actual details are so complicated and so easy to be uninterested in. The assumptions people have however, are generally unfounded or altogether too easy to pick apart. At this point it is a stretch to say that leaving will have this effect on this thing, or that staying in will have that effect on that thing. What we do have at this point, is options; many options, many unknowns and a state of analysis paralysis. For example, several detailed exit strategies have been and continue to be developed, but go uncovered by the big campaigns. Instead we are subject to contradictory statements and arguments tailored to a particular audience without a thought for impartiality. It is so important to criticise this kind of work at this point because the intellectual argument is going completely unheard. I do not profess to be an expert - I am far from it, but I am going to try and navigate this thing from an impartial and critical standpoint as much as I can muster. It is the nature of the beast that these blogs may ultimately leave you with more questions than answers, but hopefully you will be asking yourself questions that you weren’t before, and will be better prepared to discuss them if they come up in the pub.

Some housekeeping, first of all. I will be using the handy term Brexit for the most part to refer to the prospect of Britain exiting the EU and the debate in general. This does not mean I am taking a stance for or against Brexit itself. In fact, I will go on record as saying that I genuinely do not know which way I will vote at this point in time.

A note on the campaigns themselves. At the time of writing campaigns on the “Out” side outweigh those on the “In” side - we have Vote Leave, Leave.EU, Leave HQ, Better Off Out, Business for Britain and Get Britain Out. On the other side are Britain Stronger in Europe and British Influence. There may be others I have missed and might be more in the future.

It has been said many times that this referendum will largely be decided by the business community. In this regard, the Chamber would love to hear feedback from any of our members who have something to say about these issues. I am not a businessman, and anything you may have to say about the referendum will help us here at the Chamber to steer our own coverage of the topic, so please get in touch and voice your opinions.

In the next blog, I will start to break down some of these statistics and show how each campaign can spin the numbers to their advantage.

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