It is still the economy, stupid

Looking back at the Referendum campaign – and the debate that has followed the vote to leave – you would never guess that the consistent feedback from the many focus groups and internal polling we commissioned showed that the most effective way of convincing swing voters that we are better off remaining in the EU was by showing them how it would affect their personal finances.

Time and time again, the consumer arguments trumped the macro economic arguments in discussions with voters.

They may have felt conflicted hearing arguments about the impact on Britain’s economy – who should they believe – George Osborne or Michael Gove? The Governor of the Bank of England or Margaret Thatcher’s former Economic Advisor? But they were convinced by Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of EasyJet, when she said the cost of holidays abroad would rise, and Sean Clarke, Chief Executive of Asda, when he said food prices would go up.

And they believed the phone companies who said Brits who travelled and worked abroad would face higher data roaming charges outside the EU – we would not be covered by EU legislation which first homogenised roaming charges and will now remove them altogether.

Ultimately these factors may not have trumped concerns about immigration or the sovereignty of our Parliament, but, for many of the voters who were made aware of them, they made a difference.

We found, however, that these consumer stories really struggled to cut through in the media, where increasingly stark and aggressive rhetoric left little room for this kind of debate.

And, apart from a brief flurry about the price of Marmite, they have featured very little in the post-referendum conversation. No one has stood up in Parliament arguing for our right to a cheap package holiday in Spain, or our freedom to stream Netflix for free on our trips abroad.

That is, of course, inevitable. But at some point the public will have to confront these issues. This week, leaked documents from the European Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy confirmed that the UK will not benefit from the abolished roaming charges when we leave the EU.

You may find some Leavers whose response to this runs along the lines of, ‘so what?’ They would argue people would not change their view about our membership of the EU because of a few extra pounds on their phone bill.

They may be right – but sudden rises in the cost of living do matter, and they can cause real headaches for government.

A few years ago there were fairly regular stories about teenagers travelling abroad and running up massive phone bills or entrepreneurs trying to build their business and returning to face thousands of pounds in data charges. This may become more frequent in the coming years.

Is this enough to overturn the referendum result? Of course not. But a hefty phone bill, a more expensive family holiday and a hike in food prices may just make Brexit a little more sour for some.

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