Project Fear could have serious consequences
Another day and another warning that Brexit could be seriously bad for the nation’s health.
Since announcing the date of the referendum, David Cameron and the Government’s official message to voters has been to vote to remain in the EU – or face the consequences.
Recent headlines include:
“UK EU exit would be global economy ‘shock’ – G20 leaders” (BBC)
“FTSE 100 chiefs warn Brexit would threaten investment in UK” (Independent)
“Brexit will make it ‘harder’ for UK to fight terrorism” (BBC)
“EU exit would turn two million Britons working within the bloc into illegal immigrants” (Independent)
“France Blackmails Britain: Stay in EU or We’ll Flood You with Migrants” (Breitbart)
“Brexit could lead to banks leaving London” (Guardian)
“Mark Carney warns Brexit is biggest risk to Britain’s financial stability” (Telegraph)
“French president insists Britain WILL face Brexit ‘consequences’” (Daily Mail)
“Gibraltar ‘Under Threat’ if Britain Votes to Leave EU” (Breitbart)
“the Gruffalo wouldn’t exist without UK in EU” (Guardian)
“Northern Ireland peace process could be set back by Brexit” (Independent)
Of course, highlighting the potential risks and downsides of leaving the EU is entirely justifiable for a Government campaigning to remain in the EU. However, it’s the prophetic fervour with which David Cameron and the Government have leapt on the fear-projection bandwagon that raises eyebrows.
It suggests that the current Government is so averse to a Britain outside the EU that it wouldn’t be able to handle it, should it actually happen. As Allister Heath – writing in the Telegraph – points out, the whole episode appears to represent the Government inadvertently downplaying “its own ability and effectiveness”(Telegraph).
However, what could end up being of much greater significance is the longer-term damage that this strategy of warnings may end up causing…
Well, to inflict deep wounds on the leave campaign the Government has “not exactly discouraged” a steady stream of high profile influencers from all quarters to come forward and voice support for their Brexit warnings. The most significant of these influencers hitting the headlines are the EU and world leaders – the very people that the UK Government would need to constructively work with in the event of a vote to leave the EU. David Cameron has effectively invited foreign leaders to take a free pot shot at the UK’s chances of making a go of it outside the EU.
David Cameron has invited foreign leaders to take a free pot shot at the UK’s chances of making a go of it outside the EU.
Should the UK vote to leave the EU, those leaders who felt emboldened to speak up and issue stark warnings about access to the single market, border controls, security information sharing, British influence etc – will feel wholly justified in seeing them through and ensure they come to bear.
If they don’t, they’ll risk looking like they were either guilty of scaremongering or that their assessments were way off the mark. Besides, as a competing nation, if you’re invited to deal a blow to the UK and simultaneously elevate your own country’s interests, why wouldn’t you?
The UK-based businesses, military leaders, economists and academics that have spoken up in support of the Government’s Brexit assessment would face a similar predicament. If the country votes to leave and the bad things they predicted don’t materialise, then they risk losing credibility and being wrong. They wouldn’t want that, so again there’s little incentive to really embrace a Brexit scenario and work too hard to deliver positive outcomes. For the ⅓ of FTSE 100 company bosses who publicly backed remaining in, Brexit could well be the perfect excuse to downsize, relocate, or introduce unpopular measures to improve efficiencies or shareholder value.
For the ⅓ of FTSE 100 company bosses who publicly backed remaining in, Brexit could well be the perfect excuse to downsize, relocate, or introduce unpopular measures to improve efficiencies or shareholder value.
By encouraging a flow of Brexit warnings David Cameron has effectively given leaders a license and a justification to be less reasonable towards the UK than perhaps they might have been if he hadn’t declared open season on the hopes and dreams of Brexiteers.
And what about the PM and his supporting Cabinet? What’s their incentive to make a decent go of it if Brexit happens? They’ll be bitter and bruised – the country just voted for the other team despite their best efforts. And now they’re responsible for navigating us through all the doomsday scenarios they predicted, and indeed were encouraging only a few weeks before.
When David Cameron chose to make good on his manifesto pledge and deliver the UK a referendum on EU membership, he had two potential outcomes could have worked out “ok” for him and the party in power. A shift in direction and some new challenges perhaps, but few would expect a Government offering a democratic choice to its people to be mercilessly crucified by the electorate – regardless of how bumpy the ride is.
…now they’re responsible for navigating us through all the doomsday scenarios they predicted, and indeed were encouraging only a few weeks before.
However, now having taken the plunge, and by choosing to campaigning so vigorously to remain in the EU (at the expense of the leave argument), his two ‘safe’ options have fast become just one safe option. Remain or bust.
Certainly this may be a risk that an outgoing PM believes is worth taking, but it’s the rest of us who will have to live with the potentially messy aftermath of this all-or-nothing strategy if the UK does vote to leave the EU.
Cameron’s worst case Brexit is a successful Brexit. The country’s worst case Brexit is a bad Brexit. That’s not an ideal situation – is it?