New Times,
New Thinking.

Conspiracy theories, threats and Hitler: the Leave campaign is the real project fear

The campaign to leave the EU is an evidence-free zone. 

By Glenis Willmott

They needed a new argument, a positive, forward-looking vision for what they see as the future of Britain… but they realised they didn’t have one so reverted to WWII and Hitler. Having lost all arguments on the economy, Vote Leave’s Boris Johnson raised the spectre of Hitler, talking about superstates and “historical parallels” between the EU and Nazi Germany. And they’re accusing the Remain campaign of being fearmongers?

They’ve complained about the terms of the debate. They’ve accused broadcasters of conspiring with the government. They’ve said journalists would be punished, and called for civil servants to be sacked. They’ve said they’ll disrupt pro-EU meetings and target pro-EU businesses. At every stage they’ve attacked individuals or organisations and not their arguments. And now they’ve invoked Godwin’s Law by comparing their opponents to Hitler.

Their tactics are the textbook definition of the increasingly desperate behaviour of the losing side in a debate. And they are losing the debate: this past week, we’ve seen the Bank of England warn leaving the EU risks plunging us into recession; the IMF warn the UK economy could suffer from Brexit; warnings Brexit would lead to a shortage of construction staff; warnings the pound will plummet and inflation soar if we left the EU.

We’ve had former Nato Secretaries-General and ex-US defence chiefs say Brexit will imperil our security, embolden our enemies and diminish our influence; the TUC warn workers are at high risk of being forced to work excessive hours if we leave; warnings tens of thousands of jobs in the City will go in the event of Brexit; a majority of the British Chambers of Commerce and Institute of Directors backing Remain…

Defence heads, trade unionists, economists, builders, business leaders, a deep, broad coalition backing British membership of the European Union. And how have Vote Leave responded? Not with civilised argument, evidence, facts and reasoned rebuttal, but with insults, smears, threats and paranoia. It’s been the usual mix of ad hominem attacks, scaremongering about immigration, and ridiculous myths about the EU banning things, this time kettles, toasters and hairdryers.

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Many Out campaigners are so obsessed with the EU issue they genuinely believe it can be likened to a Fourth Reich, but they’re not representative of most British people, for whom the European Union has never been as important an issue as it is to Tory backbenchers and constituency chairmen.

It’s what happens when you’ve given up on convincing the undecideds and care only about firing up die-hard Eurosceptics, praying for a low-turnout poll, which Vote Leave privately admits is their strategy. Having lost the argument on the economy, they’re now following step-by-step the UKIP guide to politics: attack foreigners, bash immigrants and peddle conspiracy theories of continental plots to take over Britain, likening Brussels of today to Berlin of yesteryear. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

We are now less than forty days from the referendum, and as has been the case virtually every week since the referendum was announced, the Brexit cheerleaders will have nothing to say on jobs or the economy, rights or security – the areas most British people care about, the things working people value the most and that are at greatest risk if we leave the EU.

On all these vital issues the evidence is overwhelmingly for Remain. That’s why the Out campaign don’t want to talk about them, and it’s why we’ll continue focusing on those key areas, over and over again, all the way up to June 23.

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