19 Apr 2016

Vote Leave’s ‘squeamishness about pressing the immigration button’

We’ve been learning a bit more in the past few days about the Leave campaign’s approach to this referendum.

While the man who led the team that failed to get official campaign designation, Arron Banks, was calling the Treasury costing of Brexit a bargain basement deal, the cheapest price tag ever attached to democracy, his old rivals who got the designation were rubbishing the numbers.

While the losing team have continued to make much of immigration in their arguments, there’s a squeamishness and sometimes something more than that in the official campaign about pressing the immigration button.

One Vote Leave board member told me the plan in the team Leave.eu called “the establishment” gang, is to leave the immigration argument largely to Nigel Farage and his allies. “Those people will turn out anyway,” the Leave Board source said.

In Michael Gove, the Leave team have a joint convenor and leading voice who has never been comfortable with the Theresa May line on immigration. Along with David Willetts (and sometimes from outside government, Boris Johnson), Mr Gove was one of the most consistent and outspoken voices against hardline immigration controls.


He is much more comfortable with the sovereignty arguments on Brexit, as is his Leave colleague Boris Johnson.

That continues to give No. 10 comfort and Sir Lynton Crosby in the Telegraph shows why. He was always a sceptic about the PM’s decision to go early and fast with a referendum but his article in today’s Telegraph will give more encouragement to Remain supporters than his two earlier articles for the Telegraph.

He says there’s a key segment of the electorate who might buy Leave’s arguments on immigration but don’t yet have the issue high enough up their personal agenda to make them vote Leave. It begs the question whether Vote Leave want to dabble in that sort of campaign focus.

Dominic Cummings, former aide to Michael Gove and the governing campaign intelligence of the team, doesn’t want a campaign wrapped in the Union Jack and has shown his team pictures of MP Philip Hollobone in his Union Jack jacket at a Go rally saying that look is the path to defeat.

If Vote Leave don’t push the message and it’s left to Ukip figures to do it, will they be able to reach beyond their 4m general election vote to turn others?

As an aside, when the Treasury document came out yesterday, the man who gave the Canada comparison credibility, Boris Johnson, delivered a jokey response in the street. He said the Treasury folk who wrote the report were the same people who’d said we should join the Euro.

In fact, the lead author, Treasury mandarin, Sir Dave Ramsden, was a central player in the Gordon Brown-commissioned HM Treasury report saying we shouldn’t join the Euro. (He was also the lead author of the Treasury report saying Scotland couldn’t manage very well if it went for independence, which Boris Johnson roundly condemned at the time – joke.)

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