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Fear, not hope: Leave camp’s principal tactic

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 21.06.2016

Brexiteers scream scaremongering when anybody warns of the risks of quitting the EU. They also claim to be choosing hope, not fear – as, indeed, the Telegraph did in its editorial this morning. If that really were the case, they would be backing Remain. Our audit shows the Leave camp’s own Project Fear highlighting the dangers of staying in the bloc is more lurid and not based on fact.

We have looked at seven of the top “scares” from each side. We have concluded that Remain’s scares are more or less valid, though sometimes too precise or exaggerated. Meanwhile, none of Leave’s scares passes muster.

Leave’s lurid frights

Turkey to join EU in 2020

Vote Leave says Turkey could join the EU “in 2020, less than three and a half years’ after the UK’s referendum”. But Turkey can’t be let in until it shows it’s a modern European democracy. Even then, we could still veto its membership.

Migrant sex attacks

Nigel Farage says the prospect of mass sex attacks by migrants, like those seen in Cologne, is the “nuclear bomb” of the referendum campaign. He says migrants could soon be given EU passports, and come to Britain. But it takes eight years – and a clean criminal record – to get German citizenship.

Terrorist sleeper cells

Liam Fox says terrorists could come to Europe, become “naturalised” in continental countries, then come to Britain to do us harm. What he doesn’t give is a convincing reason why terrorists would wait several years to get a passport when they could immediately launch an attack in another EU country.

EU army

Beneath the word “Fact”, written in big, red letters, Vote Leave’s website says “The EU is now creating a new ‘border force’ and ‘army’”. It isn’t, and the UK could veto any attempt to do so.

EU superstate

Boris Johnson says we’ll be dragged “willy-nilly” into a European superstate if we stay, basing his views on the so-called Five Presidents’ Report. But Britain isn’t affected by the most eye-catching proposals, which focus on shoring up the eurozone.

Eurozone bailout

Vote Leave says we’ll be on the hook for eurozone bailouts if we stay. But Cameron’s renegotiation won a commitment that the UK won’t be paying the eurozone’s bills.

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Stay’s “scare” tactics

Trade

George Osborne says that under all plausible alternatives we would find “there would be less trade”. He’s right. All the options touted by the Leave camp – from mimicking Canada and Albania to relying on our membership of the World Trade Organisation – would give us less access to the EU market.

Higher prices

David Cameron says “a weaker currency means more expensive imports” leading to “higher prices in the shops”. Most economists, including the Bank of England’s, think Brexit would cause the pound to fall. That would push prices up.

Recession

“Does Britain really want this DIY recession?” asks George Osborne. “Because that’s what the evidence shows we’ll get if we vote to leave the EU”. The Chancellor is being a little too certain. Greater uncertainty and the prospect of less trade could cause a recession according to the governor of the Bank of England and the head of the IMF, but it would not necessarily do so. Meanwhile, the Treasury’s central estimate was a very shallow dip.

Emergency budget

Cameron suggested the government would need an “emergency budget” if we vote for Brexit. Quitting the EU would probably cause a hole in the public finances – of £20-40 billion by 2020, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. But that doesn’t mean there would have to be an immediate austerity budget. Nor is one likely – given that Cameron and Osborne probably won’t be in Downing Street if we vote to Leave.

Pension cuts

Cameron says Brexit could threaten the “triple lock” guaranteeing the state pension increases in line with the higher of inflation, average earnings or 2.5%. Given that Brexit would probably cause a hole in public finances, the government would probably eventually have to cut spending somewhere – though it’s possible pensions could escape the axe.

Households £4,300 worse off

Osborne says Britain would be worse off “to the tune of £4,300 a year for every household”. The Chancellor’s figure would be OK as a ballpark estimate, but the way he expresses it is too precise.

Lower house prices

Osborne says it would bring “a hit to the value of people’s homes by at least 10% and up to 18%”. The Chancellor is not playing an entirely straight bat. House prices in 2018 might well be 10-18% lower than they would have been in the EU. However, as house prices are expected by the Office for Budget Responsibility to rise by about 8% over that period, any fall from today’s prices would be rather lower.

World War 3

Vote Leave says Cameron warned a Brexit “would spark World War Three”. That claim is  scaremongering, but it doesn’t come from Cameron. That phrase originated with Vote Leave’s own Boris Johnson – so it actually belongs in the Leave camp’s list of terrors.

If Britain votes to Leave on June 23, it will be a victory for the real Project Fear.

Edited by Hugo Dixon