This is a referendum on the EU, not the single market

Today three opinion polls - from YouGov, ICM and TNS - are all putting Leave in the lead. Those are on top of other very recent surveys suggesting a shift in Leave’s direction.

That has obvious significance and it is causing reverberations in the Remain camp.

Taking a step back for a moment to last week, on Tuesday we saw the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard coming out in favour of the Flexcit plan by Dr Richard North, and my own ASI paper called “The Case for the EEA Option” that borrows from the North plan.

That article prompted leading Remain thinker Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform to agree that using the EEA as a transition point was indeed a viable exit option - to my knowledge, the first Remainer to do so. Grant also agreed that parliamentary arithmetic very much favoured this option and, further, that top Vote Leave MPs would be able to support such a manoeuvre after a Leave vote.

Now this morning, the BBC’s James Landale has reported that Remain MPs are indeed saying that while they would have to deliver a Leave proposition after a Leave vote, they would not support leaving the single market (the European Economic Area), which is separate to the EU.

There are two ways to view this. Firstly that they are genuinely concerned about leaving the single market more than leaving the EU. That would make perfect sense as so many of their objections to leaving the EU are actually objections to leaving the single market. But secondly that they are making mischief for the Vote Leave campaign that has nailed its colours so firmly to the border control mast.

I suspect it is the first but with a helpful side-effect (to the Remain camp) of the second.

And of course the other paradoxical side-effect is that it derisks the economics of Leave and makes Leave more attractive to wavering voters.

Sure enough, Dominic Cummings for Vote Leave responded by suggesting that MPs were saying they would ignore a Leave result. Yet that is exactly what they are not saying. Rather that “Leave only means leaving EU membership”. The BBC report made it very clear:

One minister said: ‘This is not fantasy. This is a huge probability. The longer we move away from the referendum, the more the economic pressures will grow to keep some links with the single market.’
Another said: ‘We would accept the mandate of the people to leave the EU.’

Indeed they would. Because in the event of a Leave vote, the precise question on the referendum ballot will matter. A lot.