Will project fear work with the EU referendum?

Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

By Jamie McKay

Britain faces refugees camps setting up in the English countryside, an exodus of businessmen leaving the UK and attacks from terrorists as Russia expands further into Eastern Europe if we vote to leave the EU in June. At least, that’s what the Remain camp has been arguing over the past few weeks as ‘Project Fear’ starts. The term originates from the 2014 Scottish independence referendum as Unionists pursued a campaign suggesting the Scottish economy and security would suffer from leaving the United Kingdom. After the Better Together campaigns clear success almost two years ago, Remain activists have clearly looked for strategies to use to avoid a potential exit from the European Union.

Both campaigns in the referendum debate have made use of unrelentingly negative advertising campaigns concerning Britain’s future relationship with the Continent. However, those Europhiles keen for Britain to remain a member state of the EU have come under particular criticism from their opponents concerning the way they have decided to conduct their campaign. In February, it emerged that Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood had essentially banned civil servants from helping the Eurosceptic Leave campaigns stating that it was the duty of civil servants to support the Governments policy. Though the Conservative party is split, and officially neutral in the referendum, the government’s official policy is to remain in the EU. Heywood’s orders to civil servants were to refuse ministers campaigning for Leave access to government papers on the referendum or recent EU renegotiations. Leave campaigners have been outraged by this decision, UKIP Wales’s leader and MEP Nathan Gill has referred to the incident as “the greatest insult to democracy”. A lack of access to government reports and negotiations makes it difficult for Leave campaigners to debunk the various claims made by Remain to scare the electorate into voting for Remain.

Britain’s relationship with the EU is primarily one of Trade and investment and business leaders have been keen to encourage a clear vote to stay. Last month a letter signed by leaders from some Britain’s most recognisable companies was published in the Times calling for a vote to stay within the EU. Soon after the letter was published however, Leave campaigners pointed to the fact that two thirds of FTSE 100 companies had not signed the letter. When this was brought up to David Cameron, the Prime Minister shrugged it off, arguing that most companies remain neutral in political affairs and that if Remain could garner the support of big businesses, they would have done so. Other leading figures such as Mark Carney, current head of the Bank of England, have argued that EU membership has served to boost the British economy, allowing it to remain dynamic and stable. Euro sceptics have been further angered by what they see as a conspiracy from the establishment to undermine their campaign.

French leaders have threatened to tear up legal agreements allowing UK border staff to operate in Calais, allowing British campaigners to claim refugee camps similar to ‘the Jungle’ in Calais would soon appear in Kent. The claims have enraged sections of the British press but other Leave campaigners have laughed in response, pointing out that current arrangement is the result of a bilateral agreement between the UK and France and has nothing to do with the EU. If France chose to scrap the agreement, they argue it would serve to harm both nations.

One form of attack that has been made repeatedly is that of security. The government have drawn attention to the UKs would lose intelligence on terrorist and criminal groups. It’s odd decision for the Remain camp to make, as previously covered, British voters tend to connect the EU with trade and the economy with NATO seen as our most valuable military alliance. But with recent events in the Ukraine public support saw a slight bump in support for the EU. In typical British stubbornness the public seem to have decided that if Putin wants to see the EU fall apart, it’s worth holding together.

Project Fear worked well in earlier instances, the Union keeping Britain together still exists after all, and scare campaigns have been a regular feature in various political campaigns in the past. But post referendum Scotland hasn’t seen nationalism vanquished, quite the opposite. The SNP are thought to have gained support recently because the unrelentingly negative campaign made the case for the union seem weak. However Britain votes in June, the losing camp will be unlikely to accept defeat.