A covert Brexit campaign

Project Fear is back! This time to convince Brits the government’s Brexit plan is the only one that doesn’t ruin the country.

Less than 200 days now stand between the UK and its official departure from the EU.

Prime Minister Theresa May and friends are back in campaign mode. The PM’s political future depends on her bringing home a Brexit deal that can pass the Commons.

And so May has launched a covert campaign to win approval for her Brexit plan – blueprinted at her country residence Chequers.

With a little help from her friends, she’s trying to rally the nation behind the “Chequers Plan”.

The government’s publishing papers listing all the downsides of a no deal Brexit…

And Bank of England governor Mark Carney doesn’t miss an opportunity to warn about the risks of such an outcome to the UK economy.

Our Brexit is the only Brexit you want, is their underlying message.

May has started another “Project Fear” by focusing on the negatives of a no deal Brexit rather than the strengths of her own plan.

Will May be more successful than the last Project Fear or is she doomed to repeat the mistakes of her predecessor?

Back in campaign mode

“Politics (noun). A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

I struggle to think of a political strife that’s done more justice to this definition by American satirist Ambrose Bierce than Brexit.

It’s hard to detect principle in Theresa May’s handling of Brexit.

She’s changed her opinion from “we need to remain in the EU” to “we need a clean break from the EU” to “we need close ties with the EU” whenever it suited her.

Boris Johnson, similarly, only sees Brexit as a means to an end. The end being his premiership.

Having written two opinion pieces on the subject, one arguing to stay in the EU and one arguing to leave the bloc, he chose the path that would bring him the most advantage.

And leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, is at odds with his party over Brexit, but by being as vague as possible on the subject Corbyn and Labour try to avoid alienating voters.

May is showering us with dire warnings about a no deal Brexit because her future depends on Brits accepting her plan for leaving the EU.

Johnson is launching a series of scathing attacks on May because his future depends on Brits hating May’s Brexit.

And Corbyn’s future depends on May’s government falling before a deal is reached and voter confidence in the Conservative Party sinking to a low.

Over the next few months everyone will be in campaign mode. It’s already started if you have been paying attention.

Johnson’s Telegraph columns in which he criticises May serve to put as much daylight between him and the PM as possible.

Labour say they’ll vote against the Brexit deal (even though we don’t know what it looks like yet) hoping it’ll force out May before Christmas.

And May has rebooted Project Fear to scare people into supporting her Brexit plan.

For now let’s focus on the government’s covert Brexit campaign.

Project Fear reboot

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab started off with a few classics.

A no deal Brexit would inevitably lead to tariffs, long queues at the border, and higher costs for businesses trading with the EU.

But since economic concerns failed to convince the British public last time, the government now seeks to bring the effects of a no deal Brexit closer to home.

How would the ordinary Brit be impacted in case the government leaves the EU without a deal?

Planes could stop flying…

If planes do fly, Brits with passports close to expiry will be turned away at the border…

If Brits still manage to cross the border, they won’t be able to drive on European soil without an international driving licence…

And their telephone bills could go through the roof again thanks to companies bringing back roaming charges.

The government has an ally in Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who has doubled down on no deal Brexit warnings:

The pound’s value will drop…

House prices could fall by 30%…

And mortgage rates will rise.

To be sure those are actual problems that could occur if the UK leaves the EU empty-handed.

But communicating them this way clearly serves the purpose of gaining support for May’s Brexit, which is very much a halfway house between staying and leaving.

It is both. And neither.

In doing so, the government risks making the same mistakes the Cameron administration made.

She’s trying to get backing for her Chequers Plan not by stressing its merits but by pointing out the hazards of crashing out.

This tactic didn’t work for her predecessor, David Cameron, who vacated 10 Downing Street with his tail between his legs.

The only point in favour of the Chequers Plan I’ve seen is Carney claiming the Chequers Brexit plan could give the UK economy a £16bn boost.

But figures like that should be taken with a grain of salt.

“I do feel sorry for people who have to put numbers on these things which are fundamentally unknowable,” Jonathan Portes, professor at King’s College London, said in the Financial Times.

It is to be hoped for May the public doesn’t see through her attempt to curry their favour for her Brexit plan.

May has always claimed to be carrying out “the will of the people”.

But if the government’s covert Brexit campaign fails to persuade Brits it’s the best way forward, the talks will reach an impasse.

The Prime Minister would be stuck, knowing the only Brexit she can deliver after 24 months of negotiations won’t be accepted by the same people she claims to represent.

At which point May might start to wonder, as the German poet Bertolt Brecht suggested, “would it not be easier … for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?”

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