Remain: The Inside Story

Adapted from the piece by Raffle Behr

The Cast of Players

  • Andrew Cooper, a former Downing Street strategist and pollster for the official remain campaign
  • Will Straw, the executive director of Britain Stronger In Europe, recalled.
  • In’s head of strategy, Ryan Coetzee, had run the Liberal Democrat 2015 election campaign
  • Ameet Gill, director of strategy at No 10 Downing Street,
  • Stephen Gilbert, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party,
  • Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s communications chief.


Physical Calendar – notations all over
Economic Calendar – (Neat)
Whitehall Pro EU Information Booklet
Large beating stick
Lectern for Cameron Press Conference
2 cardboard buses
Antique pistol
Kitchen Knife
Football and Jersey

The Story – Act 1

internal Conservative squabbles – “endless blue-on-blue” as Straw put it – which was turning supporters of other parties off the referendum and threatening to suppress the remain vote

a plan was hatched to tone down Tory voices and amplify the opposition. Staff from Stronger In branded it a “Labour fightback”.

Ed Miliband, the man Cameron had beaten in the general election of 2015, helped to persuade Corbyn to lend his voice to a trade union event already planned for the following week.

the team agreed to a script aimed at core Labour voters, which included the threat that Brexit would “turn industrial heartlands into wastelands” and “finish the job that Thatcher started”.

Labour staffers sometimes bristled at what they saw as unmerited swagger in the step of the Downing Street contingent, who expected to easily replicate their victory in the previous May’s general election.

Cameron gambled everything on the European referendum because he thought the centre was secure. He and George Osborne believed, as one of their cabinet allies told me: “It will be about jobs and the economy and it won’t even be close.”

Cameron’s inner circle was driven by two instincts. First, its members wanted to get the pesky referendum out of the way in order to crack on with a legacy-building second term of domestic reform.

German and French elections, which are due to be held in 2017, were drawing closer.

The No 10 team had imbibed from Crosby a belief in the virtues of a relentless, narrow focus on economic security and the risks of gambling on the unknown. Ed Miliband’s hopes of becoming prime minister had been shredded by that approach.

Cameron tried to remain neutral nd claimed that he would only support membership of the European Union if he could wring the right concessions from other continental leaders. Because of the Corbyn effect They all gradually realised they were Tories

British Influence was launched to start making the case to remain in the EU. Intended as a cross-party initiative, it was funded by David Sainsbury, a businessman, philanthropist and Labour peer, and fronted, to begin with, by Peter Mandelson, the Lib Dem Danny Alexander and Tory grandee Ken Clarke.

The Stronger In branding was then developed with Greg Nugent, a marketing executive who had worked for London’s 2012 Olympic agency, and Lucy Thomas, a pro-European business advocate who became Straw’s deputy. Mandelson, Alexander and Green mined their contacts to recruit a board with no single party allegiance, which would include representatives from the business and voluntary sectors.

Osborne pushed Stuart Rose into being Chairman – Rose was like a world-class rugby player who was handed cricket pads and expected to bat,” said one senior source campaign source.)

Cameron worried that the whole Stronger In approach reeked of a metropolitan europhilia that would not chime with the public mood.

Coetzee then developed the strategic concepts and message scripts, which were tested, refined and retested in focus groups throughout the campaign.

Didn’t work Coetzee so better “get your coat” to quote a Fast Show sketch.
Osborne and Mandelson in “late night meetings”. Pheuch spare us the details!

Downing Street started to realise that winning the referendum was going to be harder than anticipated. On 2 February, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, released a letter

Cameron experienced what it would feel like to fight a campaign with most of Fleet Street lined up on the opposing side – to receive the kind of ferocious treatment usually reserved for Labour leaders

The renegotiation blew up on the launchpad,”

Gove and Johnson declared for BREXIT and Cameron delivered a tetchy performance in Croydon. Aw diddums.

Journalists started speculating about the Tori leadership rather than sticking with Referendum issues The leave side exploited this dynamic. A well organised backbench rightwing Tori coup ensued.

Whitehall Machinery swung into action and On 6 April, a pro-EU information booklet was dispatched to every home. On 18 April, the Treasury published a report warning that Brexit would leave every UK household £4,300 worse off.

Barack Obama administered a statesmanlike spanking to the leave campaign,

and like naughty children the UK Electorate turned round and said “Didn’t hurt!”

On Friday 27 May, someone in the remain campaign texted me: “We’ve got them where we want them on the economy. Now we have to press the advantage.”

The following week, Johnson and Gove launched a set of policies, including an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system, in a bid to project the impression of a Brexit-ready government-in-waiting

More infuriating still was the amount of air time given to claims from the leave campaign that were either grotesque distortions or flagrant lies – the fiction that EU membership cost £350m per week; the pretence that Turkey was close to EU membership and the denial that the UK had a veto on that point.

Coetzee convened a press conference “To get our point across” but it failed
The theme was “Brexit lies”. Cameron accused the leave side of “resorting to total untruths but the onlookers just concluded that both sides were engaged in weilding hysterical half truths.

on 3 June that “people in this country have had enough of experts”.
Downing Street couldn’t believe what it was hearing.

“If anyone on the left had ever said the Bank of England was corrupt and shouldn’t have a view, they would be incinerated, but the BBC gave a free ride to the rubbishing of institutions.”

An event with Corbyn, his shadow cabinet and trade union leaders on 14 June was overshadowed by an internal Labour row about whether free movement of workers – an axiom of EU membership – should be up for renegotiation. Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson told the BBC that the issue should be “looked at again”. The former shadow chancellor Ed Balls said that a future Labour government would “press Europe to restore proper borders”.

Having rewritten the schedule so Labour could ride to the rescue, they saw the very people who were supposed to be shoring up the remain message drawing attention to their biggest weakness. Corbyn, meanwhile, was retreating back into non-cooperation. Gordon Brown had devised an initiative to bring Labour leaders past and present together for an event – but Corbyn refused to share a platform with Tony Blair.
Cooper’s early polling had shown that around two-thirds of Labour voters were likely to support EU membership. That did not match reports from the field, so Straw commissioned a subsequent analysis, dated April 2016, which showed a discrepancy between the party’s metropolitan, university-educated, middle-class voters and its lower-income, working-class supporters, who were far more sceptical about the case for remaining.

Your polls are S#%$€ Cooper. BREXIT was not a working class revolt!

Downing Street was saddled with the promise Cameron had made in 2010 to limit annual migration to “tens of thousands” – a failed proposal that could not apply to EU nationals.

As the final weekend of the campaign approached, Straw, Coetzee, Gill, Gilbert, Oliver and Cooper wrestled with their central dilemma: either they find a solution to voters’ concerns about immigration, which realistically meant some drastic offer to limit free movement, or they double down on the economic message in the hope that, ultimately, their target audience’s cautious nature would prevail.

16 June, Cameron was flying to a remain rally in Gibraltar. But when the plane landed, he turned around and came straight back to the UK. Jo Cox had been “shot”.

In the final days the non-political voice of David Beckham, at the campaign’s invitation, tried to rally the Remain campaign.

Cameron was monitoring the same computer model with his closest aides and ministerial allies in Downing Street. By the early hours of Friday 24 June he knew his biggest gamble and his career had ended in failure.

“There were people turning up who had never voted before,” Straw said after the defeat. “They did it this time because they were very angry with what they felt had been done to them in their communities over decades – the decline of industry, the rapid increase in people coming to this country, the levels of austerity

People had many motives to vote leave, but the most potent elements were resentment of an elite political class, rage at decades of social alienation in large swaths of the country, and a determination to reverse a tide of mass migration. Those forces overwhelmed expert pleas for economic stability.
People had many motives to vote leave, but the most potent elements were resentment of an elite political class, rage at decades of social alienation in large swaths of the country, and a determination to reverse a tide of mass migration. Those forces overwhelmed expert pleas for economic stability.

This was a revolution.

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