Skip to Content

Coffee House

Brexit U-turns: who is rowing back on their Project Fear warnings?

21 September 2016

12:35 PM

21 September 2016

12:35 PM

In the run-up to the referendum, we were warned Brexit would unleash misery. George Osborne suggested a vote for Brexit would lead to a DIY recession. And numerous business bosses and the great and the good piled in to add their warnings to the doom-mongering. Yet in the weeks since the referendum, their predictions of chaos have not come true. What’s more, many of those shouting the loudest about the consequence of Brexit are now furiously rowing back on their warnings. Here, The Spectator compiles the Brexit u-turns and referendum backtracking:

In the aftermath of the vote, many major banks and financial institutions continued to warn that Brexit spelt bad news for the economy. Credit Suisse were among them; in a Treasury report in August, they predicted the UK’s economy would go into recession next year. Now, just weeks later, they’ve cancelled that forecast to suggest instead that the economy would grow by 0.5 per cent next year. Morgan Stanley also cancelled their prediction of a 2017 ‘Brecession’ to offer a similar, more optimistic picture of the UK economic outlook. The investment bank also upped its GDP forecast again this month.

London City Airport‘s boss Declan Collier warned before Brexit that a vote to ‘Leave’ would ‘undermine the free flow of trade and travel’. Yet just a month after the referendum, things were looking much rosier for the airport following the announcement of a £344m expansion. Collier said the news ‘sent a strong message that London and the UK are very much open for business’.

Nissan is one of the most important foreign investors in the UK, so when the carmaker’s boss Carlos Ghosn said that Brexit could cause the company to reconsider its investments in Britain, people sat up and listened. That was in November 2013, yet after the referendum Ghosn has struck a somewhat more positive note about how he is ‘reasonably optimistic’ over Brexit, whatever happens.

Donald Tusk couldn’t have been clearer in making his thoughts known about Brexit in the run-up to the referendum. The European Council president said a British exit from the EU could trigger ‘the end of Western political civilisation’. Yet the day after the vote, he was somewhat more sober-minded, saying that it was business as usual: ‘What has happened happened, and we have to move on with our regular agenda.’

GlaxoSmithKline‘s boss made it clear he thought Brexit was bad news for business. Sir Andrew Witty said that it was better for Britain to stay in the EU than ‘trying to plot a new course’ outside. And he went on to say, back in May, that ‘leaving the EU would create uncertainty and potentially add complexity’. Just weeks after the referendum, though, GSK announced plans to invest £275m in three of its British plants. And here is Witty speaking about their post-Brexit investment:

‘It [the investment] is testament to our skilled UK workforce and the country’s leading position in life sciences.’

Rob Wainwright, the British head of Europol, said in the run-up to the referendum that Brexit ‘would make it harder for Britain to fight terrorism and crime.’ But in the aftermath of the vote, he struck a more positive note:

‘We’re dealing very much with a globalised problem that requires close co-operation with our European neighbours, particularly in information sharing. That’s going to continue of course, even after the UK leaves the EU.’

Siemens‘s Chief Executive waited until after the EU referendum to say that Brexit could hit investment. Juergen Maier said the company’s short-term investments in Britain were ‘on ice’. Yet, just weeks later, it was announced Siemens would continue to pump money into Britain. In an apparent contradiction of the company’s earlier warnings, Maier said that whether the UK was in or out of the EU, it remained a ‘good place to do business’.

Barack Obama was undoubtedly one of the highest profile figures from overseas to intervene in the Brexit debate. He famously warned that a Britain outside the EU would find itself ‘at the back of the queue’ in trade talks with the US. Afterwards, however, the President’s spokesman Eric Schultz made it clear that the special relationship ‘had not suffered because of the vote’.

As the architect of Project Fear, George Osborne was one of the first to backtrack following Brexit. In the lead-up to the vote, the then-Chancellor indicated there would be a recession if Britain voted ‘Leave’. But speaking days after the referendum vote emerged, he softened his rhetoric to say the economy would merely undergo an ‘adjustment’. And where was his much-touted ’emergency budget’? Osborne wasn’t keen to be drawn on that either, and booted the budget football away by saying there would ‘have to be action’ – without daring to mention his original plan of action.

Michael Saunders was all doom and gloom about Brexit when he joined the Monetary Policy Committee earlier this year. Speaking in May, he said privately that a vote to leave the EU could force interest rates up to as much as 3.5 per cent by Christmas. Yet in an interview in September, Saunders changed his tune by suggesting that a further cut in interest rates could be on the cards.

We’ll keep all the backtracking up to date over the weeks and months ahead. If there’s a Brexit U-turn that you think should be included, then email

Show comments