‘Project Fear’ didn’t work out in the 2016 Brexit referendum, with voters turning against the ‘experts’ maligned by Michael Gove and other Leave campaigners. So it’s strange to see the Conservatives reigniting it again in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, warning of six months of disruption at Dover and other ports in the event of no deal. There’s no evidence that this squeeze message is really going to work on Tory MPs and whittle down the scale of the expected defeat next week.
The return of Project Fear is also a reminder of the danger of a second referendum for those who hope that it might lead to Britain voting to Remain after all. MPs who’ve been consulting their constituents on the vote over the past few weeks have told me they are shocked by how many don’t believe any of the warnings about the impact of a no deal. This would mean that if there were an option in a second referendum to vote for no deal, then voters might not see it as the scary prospect that ministers are currently trying to sell it as.
More widely, campaigners for a second referendum who want Britain to stay in the EU do need to remember that voters took one look at the political establishment telling them to vote Remain and went the other way. Voters don’t suddenly seem to have gained a great deal of respect for politicians’ opinions since that vote in 2016, and may in fact be deeply frustrated with the way politicians have been conducting themselves in the two years since. So would they really listen to a group that includes figures such as Tony Blair? Generally, any sort of cunning plan that politicians have come up with over the past few years has failed – and so surely politicians should realise that there is a great deal for them to fear in Project Fear.