EU referendum: The ten worst clichés from the campaign so far

Only days into their campaigns both sides are resorting to cliché. John Rentoul and Ian Johnston trot them out

John Rentoul,Ian Johnston
Friday 26 February 2016 22:44 GMT
David Cameron speaks to employees during a question and answer session at GE Aviation in Cardiff yesterday
David Cameron speaks to employees during a question and answer session at GE Aviation in Cardiff yesterday

The two sides have been campaigning for six whole days since the Prime Minister completed his renegotiation in Brussels and already the stock phrases are beginning to grate. Here is your guide to those clichés that you may want to screen out for the next four months.

The “Remain” clichés

Best of both worlds

The title of the Government’s White Paper: “The best of both worlds: the United Kingdom’s special status in a reformed European Union.” It is one of the Prime Minister’s favourite phrases, much prized in reporters’ bingo among the pack assigned to cover his campaigning speeches. According to David Cameron, the B of BW often consists of “full access to the free-trade single market”. Quite different from the old unfree-trade single market that nobody likes.

Leap in the dark

Cameron and George Osborne warn that Brexit would be to take a risk at a time of uncertainty. They use the phrase so often that the Leaver Matt Ridley wrote an article saying: “Let’s take a leap into the light.”

Legally binding

The launch of the referendum campaign was dominated by an intense debate, prompted by Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, about the legal status of Cameron’s deal. Every two-bit commentator became a QC for the day until sensible people decided it all depended on what you meant by legally and binding and which bit of the deal you were talking about.

Threat to national security

The EU has no defence role, despite several attempts to give it one, but the Prime Minister and Alan Johnson, the leader of the Labour In campaign, often mention Vladimir Putin and suggest that he would be smirking in a sinister way if the EU broke up. Cameron’s statement outside No 10 after the Cabinet meeting to approve the deal used the word safe or safer five times in four minutes.

Safer, stronger and better off

This appears to be the official slogan of Britain Stronger In Europe. Stuart Rose, its chairman who once forgot the organisation’s name, has it off pat: “Britain is stronger, safer and better off in Europe.” It featured in the letter signed by the bosses of a third of the businesses in the FTSE 100 Index. It is repeated by Cameron at every possible opportunity.

The “Leave” clichés


“Let’s take back control” was the slogan on the big board that the six refuseniks held – like a charity cheque – after the Cabinet meeting that released them to campaign against the Government line. “Vote leave, take control” is the Vote Leave campaign slogan. Often linked with “our borders”, another cliché for a country that has an actual border only with the Irish Republic.

Speak for England

A historical cliché from 1939, when Tory MP Leo Amery called on Arthur Greenwood, standing in for Clement Attlee, to do so. The Daily Mail’s front page editorial on 4 February asked, “Who Will Speak for England?” It had to use several paragraphs to explain that it wasn’t comparing the EU to the Nazis, but… (In any case, according the opinion polls, the answer turned out to be: David Cameron.)


A way of sounding like a constitutionalist rather than an anti-immigration rabble-rouser, much deployed by Boris Johnson. In order to try to keep him on board, Cameron promised a Sovereignty Act, but since the Mayor of London defected it has been left in the pending tray.

Project Fear

The Scottish Nationalist nickname for the Better Together campaign has been adopted by the Outers. Boris told the London Assembly: “You will certainly hear, in the next few months, all sorts of people scaremongering and you will hear people saying that we can’t survive outside Europe.” The Daily Express carried a front page: “Project Fear UNLEASHED: Desperate Cameron ‘bullies’ businesses into signing pro-EU letter”.

I love Europe, not the EU

Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph article in which he declared he would be voting to leave started by praising “Europe – the home of the greatest and richest culture in the world”. Nigel Farage makes much of his wife Kirsten being German: he loves Continental Europeans so much he married one. It is the bureaucracy of the European superstate they cannot stand.

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