I backed Remain – but the warped Project Fear narrative does not stand up to scrutiny

I backed Remain – but the warped Project Fear narrative does not stand up to scrutiny

An emotionally-charged campaign to overturn the 2016 referendum result is in full swing. We are told Britain is falling apart; that our economy is in crisis and our international reputation is in tatters. And it’s all down to Brexit. Daily the drip-drip of negative stories dominates insidiously biased media coverage. Terms and phrases such as “falling off the cliff edge”, “crashing out”, “a catastrophe”, “a disaster” have become the staple of the anti-Brexit reaction.

An unholy alliance has sprung up between cosmopolitan, metropolitan liberal elites and the ranting, rabid far-left, best symbolised by David Lammy’s outrageously polarising rhetoric. When the Remain ultras are not smearing millions of British people as racists, they are busy trying to scare millions of British people back into the status quo. Project Fear, however, is really just about that: fear-mongering.

It’s a concerted propaganda effort aimed at demoralising the British public and shaking our confidence in the UK’s ability to make success of Brexit. As all propaganda, it distorts facts by presenting a warped view of reality, devoid of any nuance or reflection. One way it does so is by filtering out real facts that do not fit into the prevailing anti-Brexit narrative of impending economic calamity. What follows are some such facts.

For instance, the news in April that the UK has been ranked as the top investment destination in the world, knocking the US off the top spot for the first time ever, comes simultaneously with the latest record-breaking drop in unemployment – now lowest since records began. As the Eurozone teeters on the edge of another recession, Britain’s growth is sustained, stable and is being achieved alongside record-breaking falls in CO2 emissions – the lowest on record since 1888.

Foreign Direct Investment in the UK is at record high. And as the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show, the bulk of this new investment is coming from Asia (a 33% increase in 2017). According to Deloitte, the UK attracted more Foreign Direct Investment over the past three years than any other country in Europe, bringing in more capital investment than second- and third-placed Germany and France combined.

It is a similar story with financial services. Since the referendum, London attracted more financial services Foreign Direct Investment projects than eight other global financial centres, securing 55 inbound projects in 2017 – more than double the number of Dublin (26), Paris (26), Frankfurt (24) and New York (20). London is set to become home to the same number of fintech unicorns as San Francisco, attracting more investment in the sector than any other city in Europe. When I asked a banker friend of mine about him relocating to Frankfurt he replied: “You go live in Frankfurt …”.

Back in February, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, announced a record-breaking increase in its investment in the UK, raising its “exposure to British companies, property and bonds regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations”. This bullish confidence is matched by private investors like Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos recently announcing a £1 billion injection in British oil and chemical industries.

British exports are going through the roof – the UK is the second fastest-growing goods exporter among the top five economies, just behind China, with our goods exports growing by 3.1% to £10.6bn in the year to January. UK exports of beverages alone, such as Scotch whisky, reached a high of £8.3bn in the year to February 2019, increasing by 7% on the previous year.

It’s worth remembering that the bulk of UK exports go outside the EU – the United States is our largest export market, followed by Germany, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, China and Switzerland, in that order. One of the greatest myths created by Project Fear is that Britain trades with the EU Single Market. In reality, Britain mostly trades with just seven of the other 27 member states of the EU. For example, the UK’s annual exports to the United Arab Emirates are worth more than the UK’s exports to Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Hungary combined.

The list of our achievements since 2016 can go on. It should not be surprising that there is little media coverage or discussion of these trends – that wouldn’t fit in with the prevailing anti-Brexit narrative. However, they should not be taken as evidence that Brexit is somehow risk-free. For example, UK’s exports to Poland are worth more than our exports to over 40 non-EU markets combined. And it is clear that some businesses across the economy are more exposed to Brexit-associated risks than others.

Some economic news since 2016 should give us serious cause for concern, but the trends outlined here should give us confidence in the underlying strength and resilience of our economy. I campaigned and voted for Remain in 2016 but, like many former Remainers, I’ve accepted the outcome of the democratic process and came to realise that Brexit is complex and requires a deeper, more nuanced understanding. It is a shame that we’ve failed to acknowledge this complexity in our public debate and this is very much down to Project Fear and the wider campaign to overturn the referendum result. It distorted our collective vision of reality, undermined public faith in democracy and damaged national morale. When Project Fear wins, Britain loses.