Health warning: This article is not repeating Project Fear. Project Fear is dead. What we have now is Project Real. What do I mean by Project Real? Facts. Trends. Policies.
Project Fear did not work because people decided to vote for ‘hope’. In other words, the feeling was that we would be better off outside the European Union. This ‘betterment’ people are expecting as the result of Brexit must be the yardstick with which we will measure its success or failure.
I do not believe that the majority of Brexit voters voted to become worse off when we leave the EU. So, where we are already experiencing some hardship we want to hear what the policies are to overcome it.
Instead of policies, we are assured that everything will be fine: Sir Edward Leigh stated in Lincolnshire Reporter on February 7 that “Whilst we may not know the precise details of what Brexit will look like, we do know our destination… I feel quietly confident… we can have confidence”.
This is the same tautology as “Brexit means Brexit” and “Leave means Leave”.
Imagine a Lincolnshire farmer saying to the bank manager: “I need your money because I need your money.”
He or she would have much better chance to get credit if she supported her claim by a business plan showing how the loan will be used.
If (big if) the government comments on any Brexit difficulties we are just told that there will be short-term pain.
Short-term pain for a long-term benefit might be bearable.
However, to be confident, we need to see this long-term benefit; we need the business plan. We need to know the destination.
Lincolnshire is an agricultural country. And predominantly a Leave county. Whilst the farmers will benefit in the short-term from the falling pound by receiving higher agricultural subsidies (which are calculated in Euros), the same farmers will be hit by higher cost of fertilisers, higher cost of fuel and higher cost of labour.
The UK food prices have low price elasticity so higher food prices do not curb demand that much – the market stays relatively stable.
Consequently, lower pound cost and higher input prices might still work out with food prices being the same or even lower.
The facts? Food prices are already 5% higher as Channel 4 Dispatches found out recently. Partly down to the fact that 48% of the food is imported and with the low pound you have to pay more for your import.
Higher costs for farmers and higher prices for people is a problem. But instead of discussing it there is just more of a snake oil charmer confidence: All will be all right when we pull out.
“Leave Means Leave” calculated that post-Brexit shopping bills will be £300 lower. Why? Because we will import more of the non-EU food which will cost less than EU protected farm prices.
How will Lincolnshire farmers cope with cheap imports? Is there a danger that Lincolnshire farmers will be priced out of their own domestic market by cheap imports?
Of course not, says the MP Owen Paterson. There will be “genuine green revolution”. Another promise, another confidence, another “have-your-cake-and-eat-it”, another worry if you are a farmer.
Hence we need discussion. We need people who are genuinely concerned about the lack of strategy currently seen in the Brexit camp.
Talking about Brexit does not question the result of the referendum. Bad Brexit policies do. Silence about Brexit does.
That is why we need the debate and we need organisations such as the recently established European Movement in Lincolnshire to spearhead the debate.
The argument of “The people have spoken so now let’s get on with it” rings hollow.
Yes, the result of the referendum is a fact and reality. But so is the falling pound, so are the price rises, so are the government’s policies promising cheaper imports, lowering taxes.
Remember Brexit was supposed to be against the rich and wealthy elite. Well, as the result of the vote the rich and wealthy are laughing the whole way to their offshore bank.
People have spoken but that does not mean people have to shut up from now to eternity.
And if the debate exposes weaker Brexit policies, people can change their opinion.
Theresa May and three quarters of Parliament seemed to change their views when the result of the referendum was a known fact.
Surely the rest of us have the same right to change our opinion if other known facts become available?