The EU IN/OUT referendum: strategy and tactics for those who want to leave the EU

Robert Henderson

The general strategy

A) How to leave

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty states

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49. (

The OUT camp must make it clear that  it would be both damaging and unnecessary for the UK to abide by this Treaty requirement. It  would allow the EU to inflict considerable damage on the UK both during the period prior to formally  leaving and afterwards if  the price of leaving with the EU’s agreement was  for  UK to sign up to various obligations, for example, to continue paying a large annual sum to the EU for ten years . It would also give  the Europhile UK political elite  ample opportunity to keep the UK attached to the EU in the manner that Norway and Switzerland are attached. More of them later.

There is also the danger that the stay-in camp could use Article 50 to argue that whether the British people want to be in or out, the cost of leaving would be too heavy because of this treaty requirement.

The Gordian knot of Article 50 can be cut  simply by passing an Act of Parliament repealing all the treaties that refer to the EU from the Treaty of Rome onwards. No major UK party could  object to this because all three have, at one time or another,  declared that Parliament remains supreme and can repudiate anything the EU does if it so chooses.

If the stay-in camp argue that would be illegal because of the  treaty obligation, the OUT camp should simply emphasise  (1) that international law is no law because there is never any means of enforcing it within its jurisdiction is a state rejects it and (2) that treaties which do not allow for contracting parties to simply withdraw are profoundly undemocratic because they bind future governments.

The OUT camp should press the major political parties to commit themselves to ignoring Article 50. If a party refuses that can be used against them because it will make them look suspicious. Before the vote

B) The parties’ plans of action if there is a vote to leave

It is important that all the parties likely to have seats in the Commons after the next election are publicly and relentlessly pressed to give at least a broad outline of what action they would adopt in the event of a vote to leave.  Left with a free hand there is a serious danger that whatever British  government is  in charge after a vote to leave would attempt to bind the UK back into the EU by stealth by signing the UK up to agreements such as those the EU has with Norway and Switzerland which mean that they have to (1) pay a fee to the EU annually, (2) adopt the social legislation which comes from the EU and (3) most importantly agree to the four “freedoms” of the EU – the free movement of goods, services, capital and  labour throughout not merely the EU  but the wider European Economic Area (EEA).

It is probable that the Westminster parties will all resist this, but that would present them with two problems. First, a refusal to do so would make them seem untrustworthy; second, if one party laid out their position but the others did not, that would potentially give the party which did say what it would do a considerable advantage over the others which did not.  If no party puts its plans before the public before the referendum, there should be demands  from those who want the UK to leave the EU that  any new treaties with the EU must be put to a referendum and, if they are rejected, the UK will simply trade with the EU under the WTO rules.

C) Repudiate re-negotiation before the referendum

Supporting the negotiation of a new relationship between the UK and the EU before a referendum is mistaken because it would seem to many to be giving tacit approval for renegotiation and legitimise the possibility of the UK remaining within the EU.  It is also rash  because  the likelihood  of the EU giving nothing is probably very small.  Indeed, they might well  give something which is substantial,  because the UK leaving the EU would be a very great blow to the organisation. The UK is the country with the second largest population within the EU with , depending on how it is measured,  the second or third largest   economy  and the country which pays the second largest contribution to the EU budget.   For the EU to lose the UK would not only be a blow in itself, it would also create a very strong precedent for every other EU state, especially the largest ones.  If  the UK left and prospered the temptation would be for other EU states to leave.

But even if negotiation  produced  nothing of substance as Harold Wilson’s “renegotiation” did in 1975, it would be a mistake to imagine that it would not influence the referendum result. The electorate is divided between the resolute come outs, the resolute stay-ins and the wavering middle.  A claim by the stay-in campaigners that something had been conceded by the EU, however  insignificant,  would provide the waverers with an excuse to vote to stay in because they could convince themselves they were voting for change.

It would be also be a mistake to see the EU offering  nothing  at all as a gift for the OUT camp. This is  because the waverers might simply see that as evidence that the EU was too powerful to oppose and shift their votes to staying in.

Those who want the UK to leave should unambiguously put the case for no renegotiation.  Dismiss anything Cameron (or any other PM) brings back from the EU by way of altered terms as being irrelevant because the EU has a long record of  agreeing things with  the UK and then finding ways of sabotaging what was agreed. In addition, a future British government  may agree to alter any terms offered at the time of the referendum.  The classic example of this changing of agreed terms happening in the past is Tony Blair’s  giving up of a substantial amount of the Thatcher rebate in return for a promised reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a promise which was never met.  That episode produced my all-time favourite amongst Blair’s penchant for lying. Two days before he went to the EU meeting at which he  gave away a  substantial part of the rebate he declared during Prime Minister’s Questions  that  the rebate  was “non-negotiable – period”

It is difficult to envisage any British prime minister not trying to  negotiate with the EU before a referendum, but it might just  happen if whoever is in power when the referendum is announced were to be told privately by the  major EU players that nothing will be given and the prime minister of the day concludes it would be best to pretend that a decision had been made not to negotiate rather than risk the humiliation of getting nothing, perhaps not even a pretence of negotiation before nothing is given.  Why would the EU do this? They might calculate that it would be a gamble worth taking to send a British PM away  with nothing  whilst hoping the referendum vote would be to stay in because then the power of the UK to resist further integration would be shot.

If the EU offer nothing, the OUT camp should welcome the fact and stress to the public that if the referendum is to stay-in the EU could force any federalist measure through because not only would any British government be much weakened in its opposition to more federalism, the UK political class as a whole would more than willing to go along with it because of their ideological commitment to the EU.

D) After the vote

Ideally the government which deals with the EU after a vote to leave will have committed themselves to a plan of action before the referendum vote.  However, as described above,  it is quite possible that this will not happen because  the UK’s overwhelmingly Europhile political class will try to re-entangle the UK with the EU. To prevent them doing so there should be a concerted campaign after the vote to ensure that the  British public understands what is being done on their behalf with a demand for a further referendum to agree any  new treaty.

The terms of the debate

It is essential that the Europhiles are not allowed to make the debate revolve around economics.   If they do it will effectively stifle meaningful debate. As anyone who has ever tried to present economic ideas to an audience of the general public will know it is a soul-destroying experience.  Take the question of how much of UK trade is with the EU. The debate will begin with the stay-in camp saying something like 45% of UK trade is with the EU. Those wanting to leave the EU will respond by saying it is probably less than 40% because of the Rotterdam/Antwerp effect . They will then be forced to explain what the Rotterdam/Amsterdam, effect is. That is the point where the general public’s concentration is lost and the debate ends up proving nothing to most of the audience.

But  although nothing is proved to the general audience by detailed economic argument ,  the audience will remember  certain phrases which have considerable  traction.  In amongst the serious debating on the issue of trade there will be phrases such as three million jobs in Britain rely on the EU and dire threats about how the EU will simply not buy British goods and services any more.  This is nonsense but fear is not a rational thing and many of those who vote will enter the voting chamber with fear of losing their jobs  in their heads regardless of what the OUT camp says if the debate is predominantly about economics.  Shift the debate away from economics and the fear inducing phrases will be heard less often.  If the BIG LIE is not repeated often enough its potency fades.

National Sovereignty

How should those wanting to leave the EU shift the focus of debate? They should put the matter which is really at the core of the UK’s  relationship with the EU  – national sovereignty – at the front of the  OUT camp’s referendum campaign.   Campaign under a slogan such as Are we to be masters in our own house?

Making national sovereignty the primary campaigning issue has the great advantage of  it being something that anyone can understand because it is both a simple concept and speaks directly to the natural tribal instincts of  human beings.   Being a simple concept readily  and naturally understood,   it is a far more potent debating tool than arguments attempting to refute the economic  arguments  beloved of the stay-in camp.  The fact that the natural tribal instincts have been suppressed for so long in the UK will increase its potency because most people will feel a sense of release when it begins to be catered for in public debate.

The appeal to national sovereignty has a further advantage. Those who support the EU are unused to debating on that ground.  That is because uncritical support for the EU has long been the position of both the British mainstream political class as a class and of the mass media.  That has meant that the contrary voice – that which wishes Britain to be independent – has been largely unheard in public debate for thirty years or more. Where it has been heard the response of the pro-EU majority has not been rational argument but abuse ranging from patronising dismissal of a wish for sovereignty as an outmoded nationalism to accusations that national sovereignty amounts to xenophobia or even racism.   These tactics – of excluding those who want to leave the EU from public debate and abuse substituted for argument – will no longer be available to the  pro EU lobby.


The most threatening and energising subject relating to the EU for the general public is immigration. The public are right to identify this as the most important aspect of our membership of the EU because immigration touches every important part of British life: jobs, housing, education, welfare, healthcare, transport, free expression  and crime besides radically changing the  nature of parts of  the UK which now have large populations of immigrants and their descendants.

The public rhetoric of mainstream politicians and the media is changing fast as they begin to realise both what an electoral liability a de facto open door immigration policy is  as the effects of mass immigration become ever more glaring.  The argument is shifting from the economic to the cultural.  For example, here is the Daily Telegraph in a leader of  25 March:

“The fact is that, for many in Britain (especially those outside the middle classes), it is not just a matter of jobs being taken or public services being stretched, but of changes in the very character of communities. Those changes may not necessarily be for the worse: as the Prime Minister says, Britain’s culture has long been enriched by the contributions of new arrivals. But as long as ministers treat immigration as a matter of profit and loss, rather than the cause of often wrenching social change, they will never be able fully to address the grievances it causes.” (

This new frankness in public debate means that the OUT camp can use the immigration argument freely provided they keep the language within the confines of formal politeness. The subject will naturally dovetail with the emphasis on national sovereignty because the most important aspect of sovereignty is the ability to control the borders of the territory of a state.  Judged by their increasing willingness to talk publicly about immigration, it is probable that the mainstream UK parties will be content to go along with  ever more frank discussion about  immigration.

The economic argument must be kept simple

It will not be possible to avoid  economic arguments entirely. The OUT camp should concentrate on repeating these two facts:

–          The disadvantageous balance of payments deficit the UK has with the EU

–          The amount the UK pays to the EU

Those are the most solid  economic figures relating to the EU.   There is some fuzziness around the edges of the balance of payments deficit because of the question of where all the imports end up (whether in the EU or outside the EU through re-exporting) ,  while the  amount the EU  receives  is solid but it has to be broken down into the money which returns to the UK and the amount retained by Brussels.  Nonetheless these are the most certain  figures and the least susceptible to obfuscation by the stay-in side.

The best way of presenting the money paid to the EU is simply to say that outside the EU we can decide  how all of it is spent in this country and to illustrate what the money saved by not paying it to the EU would pay for.

It will also be necessary to address the question of protectionist measures the EU might take against the UK if the  vote was to leave.  It is improbable that the EU would place heavy protectionist barriers on UK exports because:

1.   The massive balance of payment deficit between the UK and the rest of the EU which is massively in the EU’s favour.

2.  Although the rest of the EU dwarfs the UK economy, much UK trade with the EU is heavily concentrated in certain regions of the EU.  The effect of protectionist barriers would  bear very heavily on these places.

3. There are strategically and economically important joint projects of which the UK is a major part,  for example, Airbus, the Joint-Strike Fighter.

4. the Republic of Ireland would be a massive bargaining chip for  the UK to play.  If the UK left and the EU rump attempted to impose sanctions against Britain this would cripple the RoI because so much of their trade is with the UK  The EU would be forced to massively subsidise the RoI  if protectionist barriers against the UK were imposed.  The EU could not exempt the RoI from the sanctions because that  would leave the EU open to British exports being funnelled through the RoI.

5. The EU would be bound by the World Trade Organisation’s restrictions on protectionist measures.

The economic  issues which are not worth pursuing in detail because they are too diffuse  and uncertain , are those relating to how much the EU costs Britain in terms of  EU-inspired legislation. It may well be that these load billions a year of extra costs  onto the UK  but they are not certain  or easily evaluated costs, not least because we cannot in the nature of things know what burdens an independent UK would impose off its own bat.   Getting into detailed  discussions about such things will simply play into the hands of  the stay-in camp because it will eat up the time and space available to those promoting the OUT cause.

Other Issues

Apart from the economic issues the stay-in camp will use these reasons for staying in:

–          That the EU  has prevented war in Western Europe since 1945.  This can be simply refuted by pointing out that the EU was not formed until  twelve years after WW2; that until 1973 the EU consisted of only six countries, three of them small,  and  of only nine countries until the 1980s. Consequently it would be reasonable to look for other reasons for  the lack of war. The two causes of   the peace in Western Europe have been the NATO alliance and the invention of nuclear weapons which make the price of war extraordinarily high.

–          That nation states such as the UK are too small to carry any real diplomatic weight in modern world.   That begs the question of whether it is an advantageous thing to carry such weight – it can get a country into disastrous foreign entanglements such as Iraq and Afghanistan – but even assuming it is advantageous , many much smaller countries than the UK survive very nicely, making their own bilateral agreements with other states large and small.   It is also worth remembering that the UK has such levers as a permanent seat on the UN Security  Council (which allows the UK to veto any proposed  move by the UN) and considerable influence in institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

Robert Henderson

1 April 2013

This entry was posted in Immigration, Nationhood, Politics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The EU IN/OUT referendum: strategy and tactics for those who want to leave the EU

  1. David Brown says:

    Robert another well thought out article and right to stress immigration over economics. The first is much more understood by readers of The Sun . Mirror and many Daily Mail readers. Right now it would be good to keep telling people that a million migrants will becoming from Romania and Bulgaria and we can do nothing about it because of our EU membership see As these are mostly white, apart from the Indian descended Roma gypsies it also deflects from cries of racism . Apart from posting links on Telegraph web site its worth going to others such as The Sun Facebook page it does not allow links but is not pre- moderated so you can put it -google up England Calling wordpress

    • William Gruff says:

      When the immigrant crime wave becomes a tsunami largely because of undesirable eastern European migrants the case for regaining control of our borders by removing ourselves from the EU will be almost incontrovertible and those who argue for staying in are going to be easily countered.

  2. William Gruff says:

    Robert: You make no mention of Article 50 as the means to leave the EU with our trading relations more or less intact. Do you think it of little or no use in getting ourselves out of the European mess?

  3. Alex Feltham says:

    If our leaders ever get the balls it would be easy to leave the EU.

    Just ask Estonia or Ukraine about how easy it was to leave their union.

    But by then there probably won’t be much left to save.

    See this analysis: “Debasing Britain” at:

  4. graham wood says:

    Robert. A very sound, sane, and well reasoned comment. I understand Article 50 to be a very useful “negotiating” tool in the hands of the EU once it is accepted by British politicians.
    In my view it would be a disaster for the reasons you have given, and also because it would give the EU the ‘handle’ to set the terms of the debate, move the goalposts, and generally bamboozle our politicians with the entrapment of ‘legalese’ to drag out our exit interminably.
    A sovereign Parliament does not need any “terms” set by the EU – and as you say, all parties in the UK concede that such Parliamentary sovereignty exists, and is there, de facto, to invoke at any time.
    Of course there would need to be negotiations on de-coupling the UK from EU hegenomy after so many years, but better by far that we dictate the timetable, the details etc on an entirely cost free basis, and as determined by our own Parliament – not the EU Commission!

    One major argument still has not been deployed very fully – namely the question ‘Can the UK afford EU membership’ – in terms of direct and indirect costs to our economy which are horrific.

  5. A.Bristow says:

    The wars in Europe have been caused by fear of domination by a single power,Napoleons wanted to rule Europe…war. the Kaiser wanted to match Britain and dominate Europe….war. And if I’m not mistaken Hitler wanted to dominate Europe……war…..

  6. Peter Brown says:

    An extremely concise analysis and one that I have advocated for some time. We simply cannot trust British Politicians let alone place any trust whatsoever in the good offices of the EU.

    In particular, I am extremely concerned with Cameron’s proposed timing of a referendum, namely late 2017. Even should a referendum result in a decision to leave the EU, to do so would require an Act of Parliament. Knowing the Government’s (read ‘Parliament’s’) talent for obfuscation and other chicanery, it is entirely likely that such letter of intent to leave the Union would not be sent until after May 2018. This would bring the two year ‘negotiating’ period within the timing of the 2020 General Election. As Constitutionally, no Government can be held to any decision by a previous Government, there is ample scope for further chicanery. Indeed, technically, there is no way to force Parliament to even pass an Act requiring the letter of intent to be sent in the first place as the Courts have consistently denied their own jurisdiction over Parliament.(see for a live ‘Table talk’ show featuring Rodney Atkinson, author of ‘Treason at Maastricht’).

    People may accuse me of being a candidate for a ‘tin foil helmet’ but such a scenario as mentioned above is not outside of the realms of possibility even though it is likely that there will be large scale protest to such an action. It is probably no accident that legislation has been passed by the EU giving legal immunity to the users of lethal force to put down civil unrest as amended to Article 2 of the Charter for Fundamental Rights (google ‘Convention_eng.pdf) and for, finally, the publishing of Article 222 of the Lisbon Treaty in July this year (almost 8 years after the signing of the Treaty) which requires all Member States to contribute both Civil and Military resources to a supranational intervention force that can be deployed in other member states to counter ‘armed terrorism’ at the request of a Government. However, once deployed, control is passed solely to the Commission and the ‘High Representative’ and cannot be terminated by the ‘host’ Nation.

    As Robert Henderson points out, we will have no control at all on the terms of an ‘Article 50’ secession as we will be totally excluded from those negotiations. Yet, not even a word of this told to the general public. Even Nigel Farage, the ‘Saviour of British Sovereignty’, whilst knowing this, insists that going the ‘Article 50’ route is ‘the polite thing to do’ even though he is hardly known for being polite to the EU in their Parliament.

    Whereas it is likely that UKIP is the only possible remedy for our head long descent into European Federalism, it is entirely necessary for those prepared to vote for UKIP to ask their prospective candidates where the candidate, personally, stands on this matter and whether they would prefer the repeal of the 1972 ‘European Communities Act’ and subsequent legislation which would give us immediate sovereignty once again.

  7. Peter Brown says:

    Upon reading through the transcript of the Referendum Debate concerning amendments, I was rather concerned about part of the statement made by David Lidington, the Minister for Europe when answering the SNP call for amendment 16 referring to the right for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish people not being taken out of the EU against their will. In the third paragraph he states:

    “Amendment 16 does not make sense in the context of the Bill. The legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory, as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year. In neither of those cases was there a threshold for the interpretation of the result. The Government take the view that, in respect of EU membership, we are one United Kingdom. The referendum will be on the subject of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and it is therefore right that there should be one referendum and one result. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will choose not to press his amendment.”

    It appears from the wording that the Government consider the referendum to be merely a vote of preference and that the result will not be binding on the Government to implement it. This has always been a worry that the Government will refuse to uphold the will of the people in preference to their own.

    There is also considerable talk of ‘alternative’ forms of Membership along the lines of ‘Brexit’ and other varieties of EEA Membership. To my mind, this must not happen. The wording of the referendum question will attract a simple in or out answer. There will be no mandate to explore other forms of membership.

    Personal note to Robert Henderson.
    We have discovered the reason for you being misdirected when trying to connect with The reason is that the Abazander Company (now defunct) was on the same server and my failure to advise you to type caused it to be misdirected. We are now in the process of setting up the site on completely new, dedicated servers which will alleviate the problem. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you would again contact me via

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