Project Fear and Brexit
It’s been a little over four months since the United Kingdom shocked most of the world—including most of their own population—by systematically deciding as a nation and declaring its intention to withdraw from the European Union (EU). This event, commonly known as “Brexit”, occurred June of this year and continues to affect the lives of millions.
Most people seem to think that the underlying current that led to the Brexit decision started only this year or even just within the recent decade. The truth, however, is that the motions that lay the foundation for Brexit was planted well over 40 years ago.
It was the year of 1973. Charles de Gaulle had resigned as president of France and soon after the UK had finally managed to join the European Economic Community (EEC). As early as the year after, the Labour Party under the leadership of Harold Wilson contested the October 1974 election with the aim to renegotiate the UK’s terms of membership to the EEC and hold a referendum to discuss whether or not they should remain with the EEC.
In 1975, there was a referendum held to determine if the UK was to stay with the EEC. At the time, mainstream press was very vocal about its support about the continuing membership with the EEC. Regardless of this, the ruling Labour Party had divisive opinions within its ranks that resulted in a vote of 2:1 in favor of withdrawal. The cabinet, as a whole, was split between those in favor of pro-European and anti-European ministers, Wilson decided to suspend the constitutional convention of Cabinet collective responsibility and allowed ministers to flagrantly discuss their side in public. On June of that year, a constituency was asked to vote yes or no on the issue. Only the Shetland Islands and the Outer Hebrides voted no. As such, the UK effectively stayed with the EEC.
The yearly elections saw the ebb and sway regarding the support for a pro-European sentiments and a rise in Eurosceptic views. This is primarily due to fear mongering and culling the intrinsic cultural concerns that the generations between the 80’s and latter 90’s. The platitude of targeting the fears and alarm of the constituents eventually led to the concept of “Project Fear”.
Project Fear has been used to refer to the flagrant interjections of pessimism and appeal for a focus toward the main perceived negative outcomes of a political decision. It was also used during the Scottish National Party and supporters of Scottish Independence; those that firmly opposed the Better Together campaign of 2014. This tactic was later maintained before, during, and even after the 2016 UK referendum on European Union (EU) membership.
Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London—and a pillar of the Leave campaign, was quite rabid in his insistence that the pro-EU (otherwise known as Remain) were making use of scare tactics and falsehoods to terrify the populace into believing that staying with the EU would be in their best interest. He even began to preach that the campaign to stay in the EU itself was Project Fear.
Conversely, there are people from both sides of the camp that have dismissing the label of “Project Fear” and aim to present it as a positive reality check rather than a disrupting and negative force. All of it came to a head and now the consequences of the Leave vote have started to trickle in. Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that Article 50 will be effective by the end of March 2017.
Article 50 refers to the fiftieth article of the Treaty on European Union which sets the process for the exit of countries from the EU. Until this article is invoked, the UK continues to remain a member of the EU. Even in the interim, “Project Fear” seems to be alive and well.