Richard North, 25/05/2016  

The multiple references in this piece by Asa Bennett to an opinion poll from ORB must be taken with a pinch of salt. All and any opinion polls must be treated with caution. Nevertheless, they cannot be ignored entirely, and this one from ORB seems to show the direction of travel, with the "remains" pulling further ahead of "leave". Their lead now stands at 13 points.

On the back of this poll, Bennett has picked up exactly the same vibes that we have explored in our report, only he personalises it by telling us that Brexiteers are on the receiving end of Mr Osborne's offensive, with Messrs Balls and Cable deployed yet again and the Treasury releasing its second report on why it thinks leaving the EU isn't a good idea.

Such tactics, Bennett thinks, seem to be working. The "remains" are continuing to dominate the economic battle in the referendum campaign, a crucial element for – as we have always maintained – the polls are suggesting that there are bigger issue than immigration.

When voters were asked by ORB which side would create a "stronger economy for the UK", the "remains" lead by 21 points with 54 percent, a four-point increase in their net lead since last week, the same boost for "remain's" lead on the question of who will "create more jobs".

Bennett asked how the "outers" can fight back. But the alarming truth is that they probably can't. To win this referendum, we had to get in first and pre-empt the scare tactics, laying a solid base of reassurance. Thus, the moment Dominic Cummings, for no good reason, rejected the idea of an exit plan, the leave campaign's fate was probably sealed.

We might possibly have been able to claw back from this huge error if Arron Banks had been a man of his word, and backed Flexcit as he said he would. He would also have had to have been successful in seeking lead designation for the "leave" proposition. He was our last chance, and he failed.

For an excellent review of where we could have been, Andrew Stuttaford's article in National Review is the place to be, especially as he makes the point that we have been pursuing the idea of an exit plan for years, only to have been ignored for several and different reasons.

Asa Bennett helps by making it clear that Vote Leave's refusal to adopt and exit plan – any exit plan – was never personal. This was a function of the flawed logic and ignorance of Dominic Cummings, the progenitor of a failed strategy – and also the craven response of the people around Cummings who never had the courage to rein him in.

The result has been a train-wreck campaign. Homing in on putative savings from leaving the EU was never going to be a credible strategy – and less so when the core claim was a clear and demonstrable lie, that we could save £350 million a week.

Under questioning from the Treasury Select Committee, Cummings sought to justify this position by claiming that there would be additional savings from the bonfire of regulation that would accompany Brexit. Yet he was unable to offer a credible figure, or be at all specific as to what regulations he would repeal.

Then, when he and his sock-puppet Michael Gove – together with the leering, buffoon Johnson – rejected any idea of continuing in the Single Market, there was no longer any doubt. Our fate was sealed. Watching the first of Vote Leave's referendum addresses did nothing else but confirm the paucity of their vision – distilling the greatest constitutional issue of our time down to the length an elderly relative might have to wait in Accident and Emergency.

With this level of campaigning, there is little Vote Leave can achieve. However, Bennett has it that one option left is to fulminate about the "scaremongering" from their opponents.

But, he notes – as do we – that the latest Treasury analysis looks at two models for their short-term impact assessment of Brexit. The first one is the model set out by Canada (which they say would result in an economic "shock"), and the other one relies on World Trade Organisation rules (which they think would lead to a "severe shock").

The Treasury decided not to look at the option of Britain following the "Norway option", joining the European Economic Area, despite doing so in their previous report on the long-term impact of Brexit. But then, this is precisely the option that Vote Leave have rejected. They can hardly complain that the Treasury hasn't modelled it.

Now, says Bennett, Brexiteers need an agreed plan in order to show Britons why the experts are "scare-mongering", and they need to be plugging it relentlessly over the next few weeks if voters are to be aware of it by 23 June.

For the moment, though. while they complain of how unfair the Chancellor is being, Bennett concludes in exactly the same way that we did, that Osborne's tactics were inevitable, and are working as voters are starting to drift away. The "outers" (as in Vote Leave) have no idea what they want, and they're giving them no reason to think otherwise.

There is not the slightest chance, however, that Vote Leave will admit to error, or change tack. This is simply not in their make-up, while craven sponsors and close supporters lack the fortitude or insight to force the issues. The "Titanic" is being driven onto the iceberg at full speed and there's nothing that can stop it.

What price a campaign when one of its most prestigious spokespersons, Sarah Wollaston disowns the core message, saying she would be refusing to hand out their "deliberately misleading" NHS leaflet.

When we then see even Katie Hopkins savage the ghastly Johnson as a "big, fat fraud", we know the game is over. In fact, Johnson the serial liar is only a symptom of the greater malaise. Driven to destruction by Cummings and his friends, the official campaign never had the slightest chance of success.

If the Brexit side does lose, says Hopkins, "much of the blame will lie with Boris - who will have no compunction about scampering back aboard the government bus if he gets half a chance". But the greater blame will belong to Dominic Cummings, with the likes of Arron Banks also occupying a prominent position in the hall of shame.

The only possible thing we can salvage from this wreckage is a clear understanding of where we went wrong, and why – and to out the guilty men (and women). At least then, the next time round we might be better prepared. And there will be a next time. This referendum will resolve nothing. The boil still has to be lanced.

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