Brexit campaign likely to dump politicians for entrepreneurs

Parliamentary Business: They think a business Eurosceptic needs to tell voters that there is a world of trade beyond Brussels

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If politicians learnt anything from the Scottish independence referendum last year, it’s that they need to get out of the way.

Distrusted, mistrusted and untrusted, there’s no point putting the political class front and centre of a single-issue campaign where seats for their parties are not directly on the line. Alex Salmond might have done a much better job leading the Yes campaign than Alistair Darling did for Better Together – hence Scotland only just about remained part of the union – but the former First Minister essentially outlasted a visibly struggling ex-chancellor.

Certainly, the Eurosceptic leaders of the nascent Conservatives for Britain and Labour for Britain groups know that their main objectives are to get their core votes out in the forthcoming in/out EU referendum. The umbrella group that eventually leads the Brexit campaign will need their support and the occasional television appearances to reassure voters of the political credibility of their cause, but not too much else.

Instead, this group will look to counter the greatest strength of the Yes to Europe alliance, which is the damage that would be done to the economy by snubbing our neighbours who are, collectively, our greatest and most geographically appropriate trading partners. A German study earlier this year claimed that exit could cost the UK well over £200bn, or 14 per cent of GDP, in lost income.

Of course, Brexit campaigners see things very differently: escaping the clutches of a wire-fenced supra-state will free up trading opportunities with the rest of the world.

They think a business Eurosceptic like JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford needs to tell voters that there is a world of trade beyond Brussels. The billionaire would reassure the country that Brexit does not mean economic disaster, that his rough-terrain forklift trucks, hydraulic excavators and diesel generators are needed in countries like China, where growth will continue to outstrip the traditional, not to say dated, economies that form the EU.

Right now, the Out group is negotiating with several business leaders to head the campaign. They need to be on board soon, because the most likely referendum date is considered to be October next year.

The Out campaigners want to have their leadership in place with no less than a year to polling day. Executives will have to sign up in the next few weeks, just so they have sufficient time to put their business affairs in order for a year-long secondment.

There will be more than one business executive heading the campaign because the Brexiters have been persuaded by the “flock of birds” argument, where the leader frequently changes. This, they reason, will prevent their top team from looking exhausted, with focus moving to different types of business men and women who can argue the Brexit case in different ways.

I would expect Sir Anthony and the vacuum cleaner inventor Sir James Dyson to be among those who at one point or another are at the head of the flock, the latter name having been floated by Ukip’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell. Wetherspoon News magazine has for years been one of the most wonderfully brazen anti-EU publications, literally aimed at the man in the pub, so the value chain’s founder, Tim Martin, will surely take his turn at the front.

The City might be in favour of staying in the EU, with the trading certainty and benefits that it brings. But expect the Brexit campaign to also be full of recognisable entrepreneurs and executives who, if the trio above prove to typify them, are also great communicators.

More importantly, switching leadership from month to month, possibly week to week, will mean that voters will not be bored seeing the same face and hearing the same sound bites time and again in what promises to be a year-long drag of technical and philosophical arguments.

Brexit wants to turn its biggest weakness into its greatest strength. Don’t be surprised if this means that, like the Scottish referendum, the result proves significantly closer than most of us expect – and certainly doesn’t put an end to the Out argument for a generation.

Ordinary Greeks punished as European banks flourish

One of those Eurosceptic Tories, Conservatives for Britain co-chair Steve Baker, is particularly annoyed about the fate of the Greek people.

He tells me: “It’s a terrible cruelty to put an entire nation into what amounts to a Victorian debtors’ prison. According to one analysis, only 10 per cent of the bailout money has reached the Greek people; 90 per cent has gone to banks and other investors as sweeteners to invest in Greek debt. It is imperative a better way forward is found.”

Whatever you think of the EU, it’s shocking that, according to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, so much went to private banks rather than families and individuals.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the overall solution to the Greek crisis will have to involve writing off the vast majority of its debt. European and Greek banks have essentially been bailed out rather than left to rot, but when you see pictures of old men crying in the streets of Athens, you know this plan has failed, nor is it capitalism in action.