The Telegraph recently published a letter from David Cameron in which the Prime Minister framed the EU referendum choice as being between “economic security with the EU” and “a leap into the dark”.
While the Leave Campaign has already rebutted many of the claims made in the article, ironically it is the Prime Minister himself who may have done the most to undermine his warnings.
In November, the Prime Minister told the British public that if he didn’t get a good enough deal, he might back Brexit. In other words, the Prime Minister felt that Britain could be better off leaving the EU than keeping its pre-deal arrangement.
In January the Prime Minister told European leaders that they would “never hear me say that Britain cannot succeed outside the EU”.
And yet today the Prime Minister is saying that Brexit would be “needless and reckless – an act of economic and political self-harm”.
If the Prime Minister wants to be at all convincing, he will have to explain what has changed to make him so pessimistic about Britain’s chances outside the EU.
He may also have to convince a skeptical public that his EU deal really does grant Britain the sort of “special status” that would make it worth staying in. However, given how poorly the “thin gruel” deal was received, the Prime Minister might think it safer not to return to the subject. In that case, Remain would have to continue arguing that while Britain’s position in the EU isn’t great, things would be even worse were Britain to leave.
In sticking to this argument, Remainers leave themselves open to the accusation that they are “merchants of doom” intent on intimidating voters into voting Remain. Whether a negative message that says “Britain can’t” can win against a positive message that says “Britain can!” remains to be seen.