In or out – who’s winning the reputation battle in the EU Referendum debate.

17 June 2016, Blog

On 23rd June 2016, UK voters will head to the polls to decide on Britain’s future. Should we take ‘Brexit’ and risk “economic ruin and uncertainty”? Or remain “under the control of Brussels and relinquish control of our laws and our borders”. It’s a “once in a generation” question; and one that personal, political and party reputations have been staked upon.

The media spotlight on the debate has been intense and the claims at times have strayed into the realms of the ridiculous. Both sides have put their champions forward to fly the flag for their camp. At time of PR Word going to press, the ICM opinion polls had put the ‘Brexit’ campaign slightly ahead, but who is winning the battle of credibility?

Media interest in the debate has focused on the ‘blue on blue’ battle between former schoolmates Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron. Both have arguably staked their own political careers on what appears to be a knife-edge decision.

Back in March 2016, Cameron and Johnson were effectively tied in their approval ratings for trust at 35%. Since then, both leaders have been making bold claims about how ‘Little’ Britain would cope outside the EU.

The public, who Johnson has always scored favourably with, saw his new role as the unofficial leader for ‘Vote Leave’ as a result of his belief that Brexit would be best for the country rather than a calculated career move. It was initially a positive image for the former London Mayor now standing firmly against the Government and his own Party.

However, claims by Boris Johnson that the British people could no longer buy bendy bananas, recycle a teabag or have a powerful vacuum cleaner because of the EU, whilst waving about a Cornish Pasty (ironically, one of 60 British food products protected by geographical status under EU law), were met with ridicule by members of the public and Government. After comparing the aims of the EU to those of Hitler, former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine wrote off Johnson’s chances of succeeding Cameron; telling the BBC, “every time he makes one of these extraordinary utterances, people in the Conservative Party will question whether he now has the judgment for that position”.

On the other side, David Cameron has been accused of hysteria with claims that “peace and stability in Europe” would be at risk from Brexit; his warnings of war in Europe have resulted in him being described as “demented” by his opponents. Treasury forecasts that each household could lose £4,300 a year as the economy shrinks by 6% from the economic damage of a vote to leave have also added to the chorus of scaremongering accusations thrown at the Prime Minister.

Either way, David Cameron is heading towards the end of his premiership but his referendum campaign could see any legacy tarnished. His personal approval ratings have fallen to 34% while over half of those surveyed in a recent YouGov poll say they disapprove of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s trust levels on the EU have now fallen to 18%, below that of Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage.

A vote to remain or leave wouldn’t ensure Boris Johnson the keys to Number 10 either, public trust for Johnson has also fallen to 31%, and has put fellow ‘Brexiteer’ Michael Gove as a top tip for Cameron’s replacement.

With personal and political reputations at stake and among the threats of war, economic ruin and an uncontrollable tide of migration, it will be undecided and worn-out voters who will have to decide who has won the credibility stakes and their trust to sway their decision.

By Simon Keen

Senior Account Executive, JBP

JBP Staff Member

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