Re­main cam­paign­ers to pledge help for NHS in a new ref­er­en­dum

The Observer - - News - Michael Sav­age Pol­icy Ed­i­tor

A pledge to spend the “div­i­dend” se­cured by stay­ing in the Euro­pean Union on na­tion­wide re­gen­er­a­tion is be­ing drawn up by se­nior Re­main strate­gists ahead of a pos­si­ble sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of a fresh poll, they are de­vel­op­ing plans for a grass­roots cam­paign that will op­er­ate with­out a tra­di­tional fig­ure­head.

Eye­catch­ing prom­ises to spend bil­lions on “left-be­hind” com­mu­ni­ties, the NHS and ar­eas af­fected by high lev­els of mi­gra­tion are among the ideas be­ing de­vel­oped by cam­paign­ers keen on avoid­ing the mis­takes of the much-crit­i­cised 2016 op­er­a­tion.

With Theresa May un­der pres­sure from her cabi­net to de­lay a vote on her Brexit deal, fig­ures on both sides of the de­bate are now plan­ning how they could win a sec­ond pub­lic vote should a ref­er­en­dum emerge as the only way to break the political dead­lock. Leave donors and pro-Brexit MPs are al­ready said to have held talks about how to fight for a hard Brexit.

The Re­main camp is des­per­ate not to re­peat the mis­takes of the last cam­paign to keep Bri­tain in the EU, which was la­belled “Project Fear” for its alarmist pre­dic­tions about the con­se­quences of leav­ing the bloc. “There needs to be a pos­i­tive vi­sion and a message that things won’t just stay the same should the coun­try back Re­main,” said one se­nior strate­gist.

There are al­ready plans to have no des­ig­nated leader and in­stead rely on the grass­roots move­ment for a sec- ond vote that has de­vel­oped since 2016. This would avoid re­ly­ing on fig­ures from the first ref­er­en­dum who were re­garded as rep­re­sent­ing the es­tab­lish­ment and an un­sat­is­fac­tory sta­tus quo. A slo­gan is also be­ing de­vel­oped that will make it clear that a Re­main vote would not mean “no change”.

At­ten­tion has al­ready turned to how the fi­nan­cial div­i­dend from re­vers­ing the Brexit vote would be used. Ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Fiscal Stud­ies, May’s deal would have a neg­a­tive fiscal im­pact of some 1.8% of GDP in the long term, which cam­paign­ers say equates to about £36bn.

Re­main fig­ures from Labour, the Con­ser­va­tives and the mi­nor par­ties are al­ready back­ing three ideas drawn up by peo­ple work­ing with the pro-Europe Com­mon Ground think­tank, in­clud­ing for­mer Tory minister David Wil­letts. They are de­signed to ad­dress “the un­der­ly­ing prob­lems that led many peo­ple to vote for Brexit in the first place”.

The first is a “jump­start fund” for parts of the coun­try starved of in­vest­ment com­pared with Lon­don and other big cities. The money could be spent on pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture, hous­ing, lo­cal trans­port, skills or busi­ness devel­op­ment. Cru­cially, there is sup­port for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to be given a say in how the money is spent.

Sec­ond, a fur­ther cash in­jec­tion for the NHS, above the 3.4% an­nual in­creases pledged by May, is seen as key. Cam­paign­ers be­lieve it would al­le­vi­ate con­cerns about the health ser­vice and high­light the mis­lead­ing Vote Leave claim that money sent to Brus­sels could be di­verted to the NHS should Bri­tain vote for Brexit.

Third, ideas are cir­cu­lat­ing about spend­ing the net tax take from EU na­tion­als in the UK on un­der­ly­ing is­sues that fu­elled the Brexit vote. Re­search for the gov­ern­ment’s Mi­gra­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee put EU na­tion­als’ con­tri­bu­tion at £4.7bn. One sug­ges­tion is a “Mi­gra­tion and Com­mu­ni­ties Fund” for ar­eas af­fected by sig­nif­i­cant mi­gra­tion of all kinds.

Se­nior fig­ures are wary of im­i­tat­ing the Leave cam­paign’s tac­tic of mak­ing prom­ises that would not or could not be ful­filled. There is also some ner­vous­ness among Tory sup­port­ers of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum about mak­ing wild spend­ing pledges, though most agree that some guar­an­tees about boosted lo­cal ser­vices will have to form part of the of­fer.

The Peo­ple’s Vote and Best for Bri­tain cam­paigns, which both back a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, are run­ning events and ral­lies this week­end to boost sup­port. A newly de­vel­oped app makes it easy for the pub­lic to lobby their MP for an­other vote. Strate­gists claim to have a net­work of some 30,000 ac­tivists across the coun­try ready for a new cam­paign.

Leave cam­paign­ers are also gear­ing up for a new poll, though sev­eral be­lieve a gen­eral elec­tion is more likely. Richard Tice, of Leave Means Leave, has al­ready said he has be­gun plan­ning a cam­paign.


Pro­test­ers de­mand a sec­ond vote at a rally in Lon­don in June.

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