Is it really “Project Fear”?

If you were a member of (say) a golf club and you told the club Secretary that you were considering resigning from the club and he replied that you would, therefore, lose the right to play golf at the club and to use other club facilities such as the bar, would that be considered a “threat”? Or would it be considered merely stating the obvious that those who are not club members cannot have the benefits of the club? Similarly with any contract: if one party voluntarily terminates the contract, the other parties to the contract are no longer obligated to provide that party with the benefits of the contract. This is simple contract law. You don’t quit a club, stop paying your subscription, refuse to obey its rules of membership and then expect to be handed a free platinum membership.

So, why is it called “Project Fear” when advocates of EU membership explain that leaving the EU means that rights we currently have are unlikely to be possible should we leave? Some may be if we make some alternative arrangement but that cannot be assumed (hence it is essential we know from the various Leave groups what alternative arrangement they propose). To take the golf club analogy further we could, for example, negotiate a “pay as you go” model for playing golf or be a guest of another member. Alternatively maybe we join another club which has reciprocal rights with the one we’re leaving. But at present Leave haven’t explained what model they prefer nor how to bring it about.

Having spent the past 20 years of Eurosceptic scaremongering on the alleged dictatorial power of the EU, EU immigration, EU rules, an alleged EU “superstate” and vast numbers of Euromyths and lies about the EU, it really is a bit rich of the Leave camapign to complain about “Project Fear”. Recent examples of Leave scaremongering include immigrants taking jobs, increased threats of terrorism, criminality and sexual assault, Turkey becoming a member, an EU Army, an EU Superstate, the NHS,  TTIP, rules on kettles, threats to pensions and other lies, myths, misrepresentations.

If we stay in the EU these are some of the benefits, in no particular order:

  • UK based companies may trade with the rest of the EU/EEA without tariffs and without having to meet 28 different sets of regulations. That means they can reach a market of 500 million consumers without impediment. The various Leave groups have no consensus on what arrangements would be put in place.
  • UK based companies can trade with the dozens of countries  that the EU has free trade agreements with (or that are pending) under preferential terms. The various Leave groups have not assessed how quickly and to what extent these FTAs would be renegotiated.
  • UK companies can adhere to a common set of environmental laws safe in the knowledge that companies in 27 other states must also adhere to the same laws. They can also be confident that countries outside the EU will increasingly need to adhere to similar laws if those states are  to continue to trade with the EU.
  • UK companies can adhere to a common set of social, employment and safety laws for their workforce and customers safe in the knowledge that companies in 27 other states must also adhere to the same laws. They can also be confident that countries outside the EU will increasingly need to adhere to similar laws if those states are  to continue to trade with the EU.
  • UK companies can be sure that should predatory monopolies or cartels engage in anti-competitive practices that impact upon their businesses, that the EU can take action to prevent such market abuse and fine perpetrators
  • As Citizens of the EU we can:
    • travel freely anywhere in the EU
    • live, work, retire anywhere in the EU
    • buy homes and set up businesses anywhere in the EU
    • have rights to healthcare and other benefits should we need them anywhere in the EU on either temporary visits or should we live there
    • use our mobile phones anywhere in the EU with reduced roaming charges (and from 2017 no roaming charges)
    • if our flights are delayed or cancelled we have the right to obtain refunds, compensation, rescheduled flights and accommodation as necessary
    • We can buy products anywhere in the EU and have guarantees enforced anywhere else in the EU.
    • We can travel of airlines anywhere in the EU safe in the knowledge that they meet a common set of safety and regulatory requirements and that pilots and aircrew are safe to fly
    • We can buy unlimited amounts of goods (such as wines, beers, spirits, cigarettes, and anything else) in other EU countries and bring them back without fear of additional taxes or confiscation by UK customs.
    • We can buy products anywhere in the EU safe in the knowledge they are safe to use and fit for purpose.
    • We can work for companies that we know must meet a minimum set of social, safety at work and employment laws
    • There are lots of other things I could add. See http://www.the-eu-and-me.org.uk/ for more
  • The EU Arrest Warrant system allows quick and easy extradition of alleged criminals on the run back to the UK.
  • The  EU Horizon 2020 and European Research Council fund UK researchers, universities and companies to participate in collaborative research. This improves the output and impact of this science in increases the rankings of UK universities.

So, remaining in the EU means we keep all of these and more. Sure, some of these can be maintained IF the UK government puts in place similar laws or regulations (though this hardly fits in well with the “cutting red tape” strategy the Leave groups generally advocate). But many can only be taken at a pan-EU level. The UK government on its own can’t require mobile phone operators to waive roaming charges for their customers outside UK jurisdiction, for example. It cannot require non-UK airlines operating out of the UK to compensate UK passengers stranded in other EU countries. The UK government could instruct HMRC not to harass returning UK citizens at airports and sea ports and to to tax or confiscate goods we bring back. But does anyone seriously think it’ll miss a trick on bolstering tax revenues and the pleas of UK based retailers complaining about such personal imports undermining their businesses?

As for the strong environmental, social, safety, employment and other protections, the standard Leave stance is “of course, parliament can enact these in Britain if we want them: we don’t need the EU for this”. Whilst technically true for many, the funny thing is, all those making this argument are those who object either in principle or in practice to any regulatory involvement in setting these sorts of standards, believing the free market is king.

Saying that if we left the EU we would lose most, if not all, of these rights is not “Project Fear”. Like the golf club example, they are merely stating the obvious: if we terminate our membership we lose the benefits of that membership. To turn that around, if we remain we continue to keep the all the benefits we currently enjoy. Many may not value those benefits or do not realise they have them. But that’s quite a different argument. If you don’t value those benefits then you won’t “fear” their removal will you? If you fear their removal, then you must value them.Leave have no consensus on what alternative relationship we will have with the EU and so cannot say which of these benefits will remain in place, wholly or partially, and which will not be.

What tends to drive “Project Fear” is that the economic consequences of no longer having the above and other benefits can be damaging. If there are impediments to trade with the EU then growth, employment, stock market valuations, and Sterling will be impacted. If universities and their researchers have no or less access to the EU science programmes then this impacts their funding streams, reduces their research output and impact and then lowers their rankings in league tables (reducing student and staff recruitment). These problems can’t just be dismissed by Leave groups as insignificant or “they would say that” type arguments. The flip side to every benefit is the loss of that benefit and the consequences that entails. Leave can argue that the benefits are not worth the costs. Fine, they should do so, but please  don’t dismiss the problems of leaving the EU in the cavalier way they are doing.

As John Major has recently written, it’s actually “Project Reality”.

See also:

Geo-Strategic Reasons for EU Membership

Geo-Political Considerations

What is meant by “Leave” the EU?

Analyses of Brexit Options

EU Laws: Are they really “pointless rules and regulation”?

Reciprocity: a glass half full or half empty?

Is the EU really undemocratic?

EU Cost of Membership

Implications for exPat Brits

Will we save money by leaving? The cost of EU Membership

Some tiresome arguments from BrExit advocates

It’s such an easy decision to leave, right?

Was Cameron shafted in the renegotiations?

Commentary on Gove’s BrExit statement

Does BrExit solve the migration crisis for the UK?

Boris at the Treasury Select Committee

Is it really Project Fear?

The Trade Embargo Strawman

The Government’s pro-Remain Leaflet

Summary of Brexit Alternatives