How do we decide? The in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union on June 23 is a once-in-a-generation vote. For some of us it’s a matter of gut political instinct: we are natural inners or outers. But for many, coming to an informed decision on how to vote is a challenge, given the swirl of claims and counterclaims being made by pro-EU campaigners on one side, and Brexit supporters on the other. Every day there’s a fresh round of media stories, with ‘Project Fear’ warning us of the dire effect Brexit would have on everything, from jobs to farming and the NHS, followed by a slew of denials by the out campaign along with their own scare stories, such as the horrific crimes committed by EU citizens living in Britain under the freedom of movement right. Just give us the facts, people cry.
How would Brexit affect trade, for example? Is it true that Britain would be in limbo for ten years while our existing deals with other countries are renegotiated, or would we move swiftly to a new trading relationship with the outside world? And what about security? Does being part of the EU keep us safer, since it gives us access to other members’ databases on suspected terrorists? Or would Brexit lead to security gains, because Britain’s borders could be strengthened and extremists more easily deported?
In this major debate, to make the case for remaining in the EU we hosted former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who has long supported further European integration. Against him was Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP and chair of Vote Leave. No ‘little Englander’, she argued that Brexit is the progressive choice. But this was a debate with a difference. As well as our two main advocates, there were three special experts – who shared the findings of their research on the economy, law and immigration. In addition, there was a professional fact checker from Full Fact, an independent factchecking charity, who was on hand to resolve any disputed claim at the click of a button.