Wednesday

23rd May 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

War, trade and project fear

  • David Cameron at the battle of Loos memorial, France, in 2014. "Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt?," he asked voters. (Photo: Crown copyright)

One of the main weaknesses in the campaign for Scottish independence in 2014 was uncertainty. The Scottish National Party claimed that Scotland would remain part of the EU, continue to use the pound, and suffer no economic tit-for-tat from London if Scotland left the UK.

Despite their protestations, nobody could say for sure what would happen in the eighteen months between the referendum vote in September 2014 and Scottish independence becoming official.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

That was probably what swung the referendum and turned a neck-and-neck campaign into a decisive 53-47 percent win for the pro-Union camp.

For the UK, becoming the first member state to leave the EU would be a comparable leap into the unknown, and David Cameron’s team are not pulling their punches as the referendum campaign enters its final six weeks. Even his own advisors are referring to the ‘Remain’ campaign strategy as ‘project fear’.

On Monday (9 May) Cameron went for broke, warning that peace in Europe should not be taken for granted.

“Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt?,” the prime minister warned. "Is that a risk worth taking?” he added.

After such dark and dire warnings of European conflict, the next question was always going to be: "How would Churchill vote?".

Sir Nicholas Soames, a Conservative MP, and grandson of Britain’s celebrated war leader, said that his forebear would have been firmly in the ‘Remain’ camp.

"The last thing on earth Churchill would have been would have been an isolationist - to want to stand apart from Europe right now at a difficult time,” he said.

The day before finance minister George Osborne, perhaps more wisely, sought to pander to the average Briton’s obsession with property by warning that a Brexit would lead to a dip in house prices.

Unlikely Armageddon

The main danger for pro-Remain supporters in ‘project fear’ lies in over-egging the pudding. The idea that Britain leaving the EU could result in war is almost as far-fetched as the claims, made by apparently sensible people in the Leave camp, that ‘Brussels’ is hell bent on having an EU army and destroying the NHS, the public health service.

Most voters will simply dismiss it as hyperbolic nonsense. And Brits are notoriously stubborn.

Instead of threatening voters with an unlikely Armageddon, ’project fear’ should focus on the years of political and economic uncertainty that would inevitably follow a ‘Brexit’ vote.

Leading ‘Leave’ campaigner Michael Gove added to the uncertainty on Sunday (8 May), when he gave a speech arguing that Britain should leave the EU and the single market, but have privileged access to it.

"We should be outside the single market, we should have access to the single market but we should not be governed by the rules that the European Court of Justice imposes on us which cost business and restrict freedom," he said.

But he ignored the fact that Switzerland and Norway, often touted by eurosceptics as the model to follow, have to abide by single market rules in order to access it.

"At the moment there are no tariffs between the UK and other countries in the European Union. Why should we seek to impose those tariffs when we are outside?"

While it is almost impossible to accurately predict what Britain’s relationship with the EU would look like, the idea that Britain would be given this kind of sweetheart deal having just turned its back on the EU is wishful thinking.

A report published by the House of Lords’ EU committee on 4 May based on a public hearing with two EU law experts makes sobering reading.

Long-term ghastliness

The Treaty on European Union provides a two-year time limit for a withdrawal agreement to enter into force but, judging by the length of comparable free trade agreements between the EU and other countries, which range between four and nine years, the chance of a comprehensive EU-UK trade and political settlement being negotiated, agreed and ratified in that time is minuscule.

Were no extension to be agreed to the two-year limit, the report argues that the UK would be likely to trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, which would herald the introduction of import and export tariffs.

“The long-term ghastliness of the legal implications is almost unimaginable,” warns Sir David Edward, a former UK judge at the European Court of Justice.

It is the promise of a drawn-out period of uncertainty for businesses and consumers that prompted the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee to warn on Thursday (May 12) that a Brexit vote ”could lead to a materially lower path for growth and a notably higher path for inflation”.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse wouldn’t ride into town if Britain voted to leave the EU. But we would be entering uncharted water, legally and politically. It should not be a difficult task for the government to persuade voters that, as with Scottish independence, testing these waters out would be little more than a high-risk low-reward game of Russian roulette.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy and a freelance writer. He writes the "UK referendum briefing" column during the 23 June referendum campaign.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Stereotypes abound in divided Britain

Remain or leave? As the EU question splits the British population down age, political leanings and education, neither side understands the motivation of the other.

Column / Brexit Briefing

How Cameron's EU referendum silenced left-wing Britain

Most of the passion in an increasingly bitter campaign ahead of the 23 June vote comes from the Conservatives. Mobilisation on the left and by nationalists remains marginal.

Stumbling towards Brexit

When Britons enter polling booths on 23 June they will be voting as much with their hearts as with their heads, and that puts the Remain campaign in big trouble.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Turning the EU migration debate on its head

Costs and benefits of migration are one of the main issues in the EU referendum campaign but the debate is mostly based on myths.

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. Are EU data watchdogs staffed for GDPR?
  2. EU pessimistic on permanent US trade exemption
  3. US asks EU to go after Russian and African villains
  4. Facebook threatened with removal from EU-US data pact
  5. Defence firms 'reap benefits' of their advice to EU
  6. Athens mayor wants direct access to EU migration fund
  7. Nordics could be first carbon-negative region in world
  8. Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight