Martin Flanagan: EU referendum debate descends into tower of babble

Ukip leader Nigel Farage giving a speech on immigration at a Vote Leave European Referendum campaign event at One George Street in Westminster, London. Picture: PA
Ukip leader Nigel Farage giving a speech on immigration at a Vote Leave European Referendum campaign event at One George Street in Westminster, London. Picture: PA
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The European Union Leave campaigners are economic illiterates “rolling the dice” on their children and grandchildren’s future. “Project Fear” Remainers are doing down the British economy through shameless scaremongering.

Meanwhile, the public lolls punch-drunk against the ropes, bludgeoned by conflicting statistical claims, its only release from the stultifying crossfire being the referendum itself on 23 June.

Subdued economic data from the construction and manufacturing sectors this week had already shown concerns over a Brexit have cast a significant shadow. Client orders are being deferred until there is EU membership clarity.

This was compounded yesterday by a pale performance in May from the key services sector – everything from retail and transport to banking, hospitality and IT. The Markit/Cips report showed services output, though up slightly from April, is still expanding at one of the weakest levels in the past three years. Again, the uncertainty of the referendum outcome is said to be a notable factor.

Services easily has the most heft in economic terms. For decades it has been Britain’s economic marquee player, now accounting for 75 per cent of GDP.

Perhaps with less than fortuitous timing, there has been a public letter from many in the top echelon of Britain’s services industry claiming that a vote to depart the EU would risk damaging our jewel in the crown.

The contributors include the chairman and chief executive of banking giant HSBC, the boss of BT, the chairman of professional services major PwC, the chief executive of catering group Compass, and the bosses of Ocado, the internet grocery firm, and Universal Music.

It hasn’t impressed the Leave camp, but then nothing does. The “debate” has become a dialogue of the deaf. The integrity of economic forecasts are routinely impugned, the fears of Britain’s export industry if we quit the club get caught up in the swirling arguments of loss of border controls to surging immigration.

And warnings of big domestic job losses if we leave jostle with more visceral public concerns about the pressures on Britain’s schools, GPs, hospitals and housing from membership of the single bloc.

It’s a veritable tower of babble.