In a field outside the Suffolk village of Barton Mills, a ‘Boris 4 PM’ billboard left over from last December’s general election has finally been replaced. The new advert reads ‘Primevil: Screaming Won’t Help’.
There can be no better illustration of how dreams have turned to dread for the prime minister and his inner circle. The signs are truly bad for Boris Johnson.
The PM’s plummeting ratings are being blamed on his ham-fisted response to almost every aspect of the Covid-19 crisis, but worries about the government’s no-deal course in Brexit negotiations are now coming to the fore.
This week, a YouGov poll for the Times showed 50% agreeing that “in hindsight, Britain was wrong to vote to leave the European Union”. Only 39% still backed the decision – a record lead for ‘wrong’ over ‘right’ and a significant shift from the 48% wrong-43% right result when YouGov asked the same question early in September.
It hardly helps Johnson’s cause that a long list of things he and his Brexit cult have derided as “Project Fear” have turned out to be closer to Project Reality. Not the wild claims of an immediate post-vote crash thrown out by a desperate George Osborne as referendum polling began to look bleak for Remain, but the predictions of disruption, delay and decay across a variety of sectors made in the leaflet sent to all homes ahead of the vote, titled “Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK”. Here is what it says and what the reality is now…
Project Fear: “If the UK voted to leave the EU, the resulting economic shock would put pressure on the value of the pound.”
Project Reality: Having closed on June 23, 2016 at 1.3 Euros to the pound, the exchange rate is currently around 1.1, and sterling has spent only a couple of days above 1.2 in the intervening four-and-a-half years.
Project Fear: “Losing our full access to the EU’s single market would make exporting to Europe harder and increase costs.”
Project Reality: The government is warning of 7,000-lorry queues in Kent, is rolling out the red tape via new customs forms and £300 Kent Access permits and is preparing to build 29 new lorry parks across England.
Project Fear: “Millions of UK citizens travel to Europe each year. The EU has made this easier and cheaper,” says the leaflet, mentioning threats to low-cost flights, the right to access free or cheap public healthcare via the EHIC card and the ban on mobile phone roaming charges.
Project Reality: Flight costs have already increased because of the sinking pound, while the government’s own travel advice for visiting Europe from January 1 includes cheery stuff like “the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end”, “get travel insurance that covers your healthcare” and “you will not be able to use the existing pet passport scheme… you’ll need to follow a different process, which takes four months”.
Project Fear: “Voting to leave… would reduce investment and cost jobs.”
Project Reality: This week Ford closes its Bridgend plant; last week the US bank JP Morgan announced it was moving £183billion in assets and 200 staff out of London, the latter as a “first wave” in response to the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
Project Fear: “EU membership means UK police can use law enforcement intelligence from 27 EU countries, and will have access to fingerprint and DNA information. EU cooperation makes it easier to keep criminals and terrorists out of the UK.”
Project Reality: A no-deal exit would see Britain lose access to these databases and to the European Arrest Warrant.
Project Fear: “The government judges it could result in 10 years or more of uncertainty as the UK unpicks our relationship with the EU and renegotiates new arrangements with the EU and over 50 other countries around the world. Some argue that we could strike a good deal quickly with the EU because they want to keep access to our market. But the government’s judgement is that it would be much harder than that.”
Project Reality: Nearly halfway through the post-Brexit decade, Tory ministers who predicted the EU would fold long ago are admitting that a trade deal might not be sorted this year. The sole ‘big’ win so far has been a trade deal with Japan that will boost UK GDP by only 0.07%. And if Joe Biden wins on November 3 and Britain continues its intention to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement, we really will be at the “back of the queue” for a trade deal with the US, as Biden’s old boss once warned.
In February 2016, Boris Johnson wrote of Remain’s claims: “In every case, the message is that Brexit is simply too scary – and the reality is that these threats are so wildly exaggerated as to be nonsense.” But who’s frightened now?
Remember: Screaming won’t help.