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Leave camp does Project Fear too

by Hugo Dixon | 05.03.2016

“Are you frit? Are you frightened? Have they spooked you yet? It is now obvious that the Remain campaign is intended to provoke only one emotion in the breast of the British public and that is fear.” Thus wrote Boris Johnson in his Telegraph column this week.

Iain Duncan Smith and Liam Fox, his fellow Tory eurosceptics, have also lambasted the Remain camp for scaremongering about what would happen if Britain left the EU. Meanwhile, UKIP leader Nigel Farage accused David Cameron of orchestrating “Project Fear”.

But the same people are not afraid to indulge in their own scaremongering, when it suits them.

Take Farage. After the Cologne sex attacks by migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, he said gangs of “aggressive young males” could get German passports within three to four years. This is false. A newly-arrived asylum seeker typically needs around 10 years – and a clean criminal record – to get a German passport.

Fox went one step further, conjuring the fear that our EU membership exposed us to terrorists. He suggested jihadis would sneak into the EU, lie low until they had a passport and then come to Britain to blow us up – an implausibly elaborate plot.

Duncan Smith added a cherry on the cake, saying jihadis could buy EU passports and then come to Britain. He didn’t seem aware that in the two EU countries where you can pay – through the nose – for a passport, Cyprus and Malta, there are elaborate background checks. Would terrorists really subject themselves to such intrusive vetting?

Meanwhile, Boris, who is one of my oldest and closest friends, is trying to frighten people with the idea that, if we stay in the EU, we will “inevitably find ourselves dragged” into a system of economic government with “taxes and budgets controlled from Brussels”.

It’s possible – though far from certain – that this will happen to eurozone countries. But it is preposterous to suggest Britain will “inevitably” be sucked in, given we don’t use the euro and have a veto over any proposals on tax issues. Didn’t Boris find it faintly ironic to be conjuring up such fears in the same breath as advocating Project Hope?

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He also says we will be “the frog in the boiling saucepan of water” if we stay in the EU – on the basis that “we will never be able credibly to argue for any reform in Europe again.” In fact, if we stay in the EU, we will be the second largest economy after Germany and have the best armed forces alongside France. That means we will be well placed to lead on both the single market and foreign policy.

Such stories are not merely implausible. They are designed to do exactly what the same campaigners criticise. What is talk of elaborate terror plots, aggressive gangs or boiled frogs if not Project Fear?

Edited by Jack Schickler

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)

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