David Cameron, British Museum
UK Prime Minister David Cameron delivering a speech on the European Union at the British Museum on 9 May 2016Leon Neal/AFP

If ever there was a one-sided battle, this is surely it. The tanks are rolling. The heavy guns all point one way. Big money and big business are committed to the same result. In Britain, America, Japan and Europe, the great and the good are in agreement. The outcome of this contest should be as predictable as a bout between Smokin' Joe Frazier and Pale Ebenezer Milquetoast.

Yet here's the thing. However battered and bruised Brexit campaigners may be, they're still standing. Far from being on their knees, begging for mercy, they believe they can win. And it isn't simply wishful thinking. As the polls confirm, they're still in with a shout – this after enduring weeks of ferocious assault. Just look at the bashing they've taken.

David Cameron's apocalyptic comments on 9 May about the risks of war in the event of a 'Leave' victory followed hard on the heels of George Osborne's warning of economic "catastrophe". President Obama says that a non-EU Britain would go to the back of the queue in any trade negotiations. Spy chiefs claim that our security would be put at risk.

Strong stuff. Plus we have a lengthy Treasury report suggesting that a Brexit would have dire consequences,a warning echoed by the CBI and a string of company CEOs. Why, we've even had a pro-Brussels speech from that lifelong critic of the EU, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

And still the voters remain quite astonishingly unimpressed. Millions are still inclined to the Brexit cause. Millions more have yet to make up their minds. However enthusiastically the 'Remain' camp promotes Project Fear, the public isn't really buying it, And I think I know why.

To put it bluntly, our elected leaders no longer deserve to be believed on anything they say on matters European. From the very beginning of our involvement with the then Common Market, voters have again and again been quite deliberately misled by the porkies of a patronising political establishment that holds them in contempt.

Examine the record.

Older readers will remember the promises of the then Tory leader Ted Heath when he took us into the Common Market in 1973. "There are some who fear that we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty," he said.

"These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified." That soothing reassurance was also made in the 1971 White Paper on Europe.

Well there's a three-letter word beginning with 'l' for Heath's claim (which he knew to be false), but it wasn't to be the only example of terminological inexactitude since then. When Labour's Harold Wilson held a referendum on our membership in 1975 he too insisted that there was no threat to our independence. 'All decisions of any importance must be agreed by every member,' proclaimed his government's case for staying in. Looks a bit silly now, doesn't it?

Boris Johnson: "Brexit campaigners are liberal freedom fighters, not Little Englanders."IBTimes UK

On and on it goes. Government after government since then have claimed that Britain is 'winning' in Europe. The reality, of course, is quite the opposite – or why did Cameron ever bother to begin negotiating a new deal with Brussels in the first place? The truth is we have lost our veto, lost a large chunk of Margaret Thatcher's rebate, lost control over our own borders and even lost much of our ability to make our own laws. So that's what 'winning' means, eh?

And now Cameron, who promised major changes in our relationship with Brussels, pretends that the pitiful outcome of his negotiation is worth having. He says he "sure would" sign up to a deal that embarrassingly reveals Britain's inability to make any significant change in the direction of EU policy. And sadly, his efforts to persuade us grow more and more implausible.

Take his speech on Monday (9 May 2016) on the supposed threat of war, should this country pull out of the EU. There could be no graver warning from any Prime Minister and in normal circumstances his words would deserve to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

But this time? He must know that the guarantor of peace in Europe is not Brussels, but NATO. He must know too that German and French plans for a military dimension to the EU risk undermining NATO, the most successful military alliance in history.

And he must know the real threat to our security comes from the mass unemployment inflicted by the euro, civil unrest, the rise of extremist parties across Europe and the ease with which terrorists can cross Europe's porous borders.

So why doesn't he say so? He tries to sound Churchillian, but in his desperation to make the best of a bad case succeeds only in sounding like Private Frazer in Dad's army. Doomed! Doomed! Were all doomed!

As with so many of his predecessors, he takes the electorate for mugs, and no doubt his warnings will intensify as we draw closer to 23 June. On the economy, on trade, on scientific development, on security, the message will be relentlessly downbeat: don't you dare vote 'Leave'. Or else.

And will it work? In the end, maybe. The Remain side certainly seems ahead at the moment, even though it relies exclusively on scaremongering.

But in all this, I'm thinking of a wise old saying: shame on you if you cheat me once. Shame on me if you cheat me twice. Well, Britain's voters certainly weren't told the truth by their prime minister at the last referendum in 1975. It will be interesting to see who they trust this time.

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Michael Toner is a former Fleet Street political editor and co-author of a series of Bluffers' Guides on Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Toner_Mick

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