EU referendum: The prime minister is either a liar or dangerously incompetent

"He keeps making arguments so fierce that they immediately raise questions about why he would have created this situation in the first place"
"He keeps making arguments so fierce that they immediately raise questions about why he would have created this situation in the first place"
Ian Dunt By

There have been so many nonsensical arguments made about Europe by both the Leave and Remain camps that it's sometimes exhausting just to keep track, but the ones being made by the prime minister are worthy of special attention.

On May 9th he warned that leaving the EU could lead to World War Three. "Can we be so sure peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt?" he asked "Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash to make that assumption." 

This morning, David Cameron and George Osborne delivered a one-two punch on jobs. While the chancellor warned that half a million jobs would be lost under Brexit, the prime minister said that Britain was just climbing out of recession. Why would we put it at risk, he asked. "The job you do, the home you live in, are at risk," he said. "The shock to our economy after leaving Europe would tip the country into recession."

All of which rather raises the question of why Cameron walked on to a stage in January 2013 and called the referendum in the first place. Given his current rhetoric, it seems inconceivable that he was responsible. After all, what kind of British prime minister puts British people's jobs, homes and lives at risk unnecessarily?

In reality, he did it because he needed to neutralise the growing rebelliousness among his backbenchers and suck some of the venom out of the threat from Ukip.

So, given it was the prime minister who created this state of affairs, his increasingly apocalyptic warnings mean he must be either lying or dangerously incompetent.

After all, any prime minister who actively created the circumstances in which World War Three could break out, or in which half a million jobs could be lost, would surely be unfit for office. That level of ineptitude would be catastrophic to a political career, especially if it resulted from efforts at internal party management rather than the national interest.

Alternately, maybe he hasn't done anything so risky, in which case he's lying. Leaving the EU will not trigger World War Three at all. In this scenario, he makes up for in hypocrisy what he salvages in competence.

My hunch is the economic warnings are vaguely sound, in so far as you can make decent judgements on something with so many variables, while the World War Three argument is guff of the highest order.

But facile comparisons aside, the prime minister is damning himself with his own words here. He keeps making arguments so fierce that they immediately raise questions about why he would have created this situation in the first place. And the answer for that is the same as it has always been with Cameron: he is a prime minister defined by his weakness. His entire time in power has been dominated by trying to make accommodation with other forces: from the Lib Dems, to Ukip, to his own backbenchers. And almost everything he has done was a response to those forces, rather than an expression of his own aims.

As it happens, he has been rather accomplished at making an accommodation with these larger forces. But given that that is what defines his time in office, he'd be wise to tone down the scare tactics for the last few weeks of the campaign.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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