Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Stop the Scare Stories

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Stop the Scare Stories

Article excerpt

So far the campaign for the EU referendum has resembled a contest as to which side can spin the most lurid and least plausible horror stories. On the one hand, the 'in' campaign claims that we'll be £4,300 worse off if we leave; that budget airlines will stop serving Britain and that we will become more prone to terror attacks. Not to be outdone, the 'out' side warns that we will be crushed by a fresh avalanche of regulation and immigration, and more prone to terror attacks.

The tone of the debate was summed up by Michael Gove this week when he accused the 'in' campaign of treating the public like children by spinning stories of bogeymen -- only then to claim that voting to remain in the EU would leave us like 'hostages locked in the back of the car'. The Justice Secretary, like his opponents, should know that such exaggerations weaken his overall case. Britain has been creating more jobs than the rest of Europe put together, which suggests it isn't exactly a 'hostage'.

As Martin Vander Weyer points out on page 30, the truth suits neither side: the truth is we just don't know. A Treasury that cannot forecast six months in advance asks to be taken seriously about what it thinks will happen 15 years' hence. The 'leave' campaign ought to admit that the whole European project might collapse even if we stay, and there will be a fresh chance to improve the terms of our membership when the French and Germans next ask for change to the EU treaty. Britain has, over the years, done well at dodging the worst of the nonsense from Brussels. Yet this fact is ignored by a 'remain' side which denies the nonsense, and the 'leave' side that denies the dodging.

The decision to stay or to leave in itself will make little difference to Britain's prosperity, nor its ability to fight terrorism. Migration will carry on apace in either scenario, especially with a Living Wage of £9 an hour acting as a magnet to the workers of the world. Brushing over these basic points will ultimately do neither side any good. Nor will unfounded scare stories withstand another two months of scrutiny. The side which will ultimately prevail is the one that retains the most credibility, and which can excite us about what might be done with either our continued membership or our newfound freedom.

While both sides deserve criticism for their tactics so far, the report published this week by the Treasury deserves special condemnation -- not least because it was published using public money. The analysis, to which George Osborne has put his signature, is perhaps the most dishonest document ever produced by HM Treasury. …

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