Whatever the result, we’re all losers in the Euro vote

So we find ourselves bombarded with statistics on anything from the impact on GDP, to public service provision, the value of housing and pensions, of cost of our holidays or consumer goods.

The veracity of these figures is a matter for others to contest.  What is less easily refuted is the simple cost of holding the referendum in the first place.  Let’s look at the facts.

Most obviously is there is the simple cost of the election itself.  Our political institutions have gone into a state of paralysis while senior figures from all parties march up and down the country to repeat a limited argument over and over again. The cost to hold the referendum has been estimated as around £150m, much of this coming from taxpayers to front anything from public information to running the polling operation.

But the true cost is much higher.  The investor community simply cannot assess the true risk of Brexit, leading to market spasms and, more recently, significant hedging against the pound.  Aside the money flows and the potential inflationary burden this creates at a macro-economic level, we have already seen signs of the impact the referendum is having on the real economy.  The property sector looks to have dipped for the first time in years. Meanwhile, businesses have simply paused from taking strategic decisions, creating a hiatus in significant inward or domestic investment.

Perhaps most crucially, the referendum is costing our political parties value they may never fully recover.  It will take something akin to a truth and reconciliation committee process to heal the wounds in the Tory Party such has been the tone of the debate in recent weeks. Meanwhile the Labour Party’s stated support for Europe nationally belies huge division on the issue around the country.  At a stroke, the referendum is placing swathes of MPs at odds with constituency party members and made so-called establishment figures look out of touch with half of the nation.

Of course referendums, like public inquiries, have an irresistible charm for politicians, kicking difficult decisions into the long grass and apparently removing the possibility of blame for whatever the outcome.  After all, who wouldn’t want the public to have more of a say in public life?

But we have a representative democracy for a reason.  Whether or not you agree with Richard Dawkins’ assessment that the European issue is “much too difficult and detailed to be left to voters” it is surely appropriate to have a sensible debate about the true cost – and value – of these votes.

Dominic Pendry, MD Corporate & Public Affairs, FleishmanHillard Fishburn