The two most powerful men in the country, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were in Eastleigh on Monday morning to reveal the findings of the latest HM Treasury analysis of the short term effects that leaving the EU would have on the UK.
Both men are usually very busy with lots of important stuff to do like running the country or ordering pre-emptive strikes so to find them both occupying the same public space outside of the cabinet room or parliament is really rather remarkable – to have them both suddenly turn up in your workplace nothing short of astounding.
While in a backroom some poor soul was left handcuffed to a briefcase containing the UK’s launch codes, staff at B&Q’s Chestnut Avenue headquarters stopped working and joined referendum weary journalists from the national travelling media circus to hear the country’s leader – and leader in waiting- deliver a very downbeat assessment of the UK’s prospects should its people vote in favour of a ‘Brexit’ in the referendum to be held in exactly one month’s time.
The treasury has previously published a report which suggested that British households would be worse off by £4,300 a year if we left.
But George Osbourne said the Treasury’s latest findings indicated there would also be a recession and the knock-on effects would include a 2% rise in inflation which would in turn trigger rising mortgage costs and a fall in house values of up to 18%.
As a consequence, up to 820,000 jobs would be lost in the UK said the Chancellor.
A sizeable audience leaned over balconies and stood in stair wells listening intently to the Chancellor as he warned that the country had “one month to avoid a DIY recession”.
The presentation ended with George Osbourne telling the crowd:
“Treasury analysis shows Britain will be stronger, safer and better off if we vote to remain in the EU on 23 June”.
Following the minister’s speeches, there followed a short question and answer session.
Phil Hornby of ITV Meridian News opened the bowling by wondering that if the consequences of a leave vote were as potentially disastrous as described, then had the Prime Minister been irresponsible in calling a referendum?
“Or maybe you don’t really believe what you’re saying?”
David Cameron responded by insisting that he certainly did believe that leaving the EU would be bad for Britain and that:
“It’s not just the Treasury who have said it; the IMF have said it, the OECD have said it and the Bank of England have said it”.
He added that he had called the referendum to honour his pledge to give a generation who had been unable to vote in 1975, a say on EU membership.
A B&Q worker asked if the PM thought there was enough unbiased and ‘uncomplicated’ information to allow members of the public “to make a decision for the future of the country”.
The PM thought that there was and this had led to a “very big and lively debate” and that this was “good for democracy”.
The BBC’s appropriately lugubrious Kamal Ahmed observed that this had been “another very gloomy assessment of the impact on the UK of leaving the EU”.
He then asked:
“Aren’t you simply trying to scare people into voting to remain?”
The Prime minister said that the treasury forecast wasn’t the most pessimistic analysis of the potential effects of Brexit and on the contrary, it had been optimistic for the future of the country if we were to remain adding:
“I make no apology for pointing out the downsides of voting to leave”.
A recent first-time voter asked the Prime Minister to say something about the importance of young people voting and he duly obliged saying:
“This is a vote for a generation, perhaps a lifetime, so I would urge young people to register and to vote”.
Carl Dinnen of ITV News asked the Chancellor that if he created the Office of Budget Responsibility because he didn’t trust Treasury forecasts then why should anyone believe their latest “DIY report”?
The Chancellor responded by saying that the OBR was limited by statute to make projections based solely on government policies but it had observed in its last report that the majority of economic opinion had forecast a period of uncertainty if the UK left the EU.
This isn’t the first time David Cameron has visited Eastleigh in oder to make a major announcement.
During the 2015 General Election he used Bursledon Community Centre ( one time home to a parish council) to announce a campaign policy initiative and was introduced by Mims Davies who was then the Conservative candidate.
This isn’t the first time that Eastleigh B&Q staff has had an opportunity to personally quiz the Prime Minister either.
In the 2013 By-election there was a similar event there in support of the (ultimately unsuccessful) conservative candidate Maria Hutchings.
But yesterday the town’s recently elected MP Mims Davies wasn’t in attendance.
This isn’t surprising though, given that this meeting was in favour of remaining and she has explicitly stated she supports the UK leaving the EU – although she is not a member of any ‘leave’ campaign group and is not campaigning for it.
In a statement released today she called on all Eastleigh folk to take part in the forthcoming EU vote irrespective of their position saying:
“This is a vital decision and I urge residents in my constituency to be certain that they are registered to vote in this crucial referendum on our EU membership,
“I hope that many people will listen to all the arguments and be ready to have their say”.