David Cameron thinks that publicly exaggerating and flaunting Britain’s supposed weakness and vulnerability will make people vote to stay in the European Union, while having no impact on perceptions of his own leadership
We have already been treated to the spectacle of our wobbly-lipped Foreign Secretary insinuating that he is so inept at managing our foreign relations and defending Britain’s interests that we would likely be “punished” by our European friends if we voted to leave the EU.
And now it is David Cameron’s turn to make an ostentatious public spectacle of just how weak and insignificant he believes we are as a country, and how hopelessly unable to defend the British interest he is.
From Michael Deacon’s sketch in the Telegraph:
Francois Hollande, the President of France, respects the British people. He respects their democratic right to choose how they wish to be governed. He would never wish to put pressure on them. And if, when the referendum comes, they decide that the UK should leave the EU, he will respect their decision.
But, he added casually, there would of course be… “consequences”.
He said the word many times. “Consequences.” There would be “consequences” relating to trade, “consequences” relating to immigration. “Consequences?” Oh, he was “unable to deny” there would be “consequences”.
Was it true, asked a journalist, that if the UK left the EU, France would abandon the deal that helps stop migrants crossing illegally from Calais to Britain?
Monsieur Hollande looked at the journalist equably. Well, he replied. Naturally there would be “consequences”.
All of this took place while our prime minister stood limply next to the French president at his podium, as though French special forces had kidnapped Samantha and the kids and were holding them at gunpoint in the background.
At what point does the dirge-like, pessimistic drivel offered up by the Remain campaign and spouted ceaselessly by loyal government ministers stop making the public question whether Brexit is safe, and start making them question why the hell we pay these people if not to aggressively defend our own national interest?
Not to get all Land of Hope and Glory here, but Britain is still a reasonably big deal in the world. A major economic power, the premier European military power and one of a handful of countries in the world with real expeditionary capabilities, and a cultural reach probably second only to the United States. Most British people know this, and do not buy into the miserablist, declinist view of Britain peddled by so many in the Remain camp.
David Cameron has clearly made a calculation that talking about the catastrophic consequences of Brexit on the United Kingdom will scare up a significant number of votes and thus undermine the Leave campaigns. Never mind that it makes him look like a liar for having previously suggested that he might recommend Brexit if he was not successful in securing his pitiful package of “reforms”. And never mind the galling spectacle of a British prime minister actively and passionately running down his own country for electoral advantage.
Allister Heath picks up on this same theme in the Telegraph:
But the Government and many of its anti-Brexit allies have gone too far: instead of carefully stoking the public’s understandable fear of change, and planting doubt in its mind, they have decided to wildly exaggerate the downsides of leaving. The hit to the economy could be greater than that from the Great Recession, we are told by some hysterical economists, and even that best-selling children’s books would no longer be written because, apparently, no non-British authors or illustrators would be allowed into the UK if we were not part of the EU.
These and many other of the similarly extreme claims that have been made in recent days are laughably implausible, even to nervous, swing voters; fear is only effective as a political strategy if it is credible. Even worse for the Government, it has also allowed a toxic narrative to set in: the idea that it would be powerless to stand up for Britain’s interests and look after our economy in the event of a Leave vote.
It’s all rather pathetic and defeatist. It would be too hard and time-consuming to conclude alternative trade deals, we are warned, and we apparently don’t have the requisite skills in the Foreign Office; there is nothing anybody could do to stop our companies, consumers and tourists being bullied and victimised by vindictive foreign governments; and we would be bulldozed by the angry bureaucrats of Brussels wherever we turn. Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, has claimed that British expats living in Europe would risk “becoming illegal immigrants overnight”, even though their status would in fact be protected under the Vienna Convention of 1969.
Project White Flag, as we should learn to call it, boils down to one long stream of nauseating, miserable, declinist negativity. Alarm bells ought to be going off in Downing Street: politicians don’t win elections or referenda by pretending to be weak and powerless, and by claiming to be at the mercy of foreign governments.
As this blog has repeatedly stated, the Remain campaign need to make up their minds. Is the EU a soft and friendly club of countries getting together to braid each other’s hair and co-operate on a range of mutually beneficial issues, or is it a snarling, angry organisation which threatens to rough us up if we attempt to leave? Are we in a happy marriage with the EU, or an abusive relationship?
And we British citizens also need to make up our minds about something. We need to decide why we should continue to tolerate having in office a prime minister, foreign secretary and other elected officials who hold our country in lower estimation than many of their own citizens, and who – by their own admission – have stated that they would be unable to aggressively defend our national interest in the event of Brexit.
Because we are rapidly reaching the point where the public may start to question the point of keeping a pampered man and his family installed in Number 10 Downing Street at all, when all he does is openly boast about his inability to influence other nations and stand up for Britain.
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Brilliant article Sam! We need much more of this! I completely agree with you that DC is in danger of looking a very weak Prime Minister, and his chief allies in the Cabinet – Hammond, Osborne and May. If there was a General Election this May, I would find it impossible to vote for the Conservatives. But who else to vote for? That is the question! I could NEVER stay at home and NOT VOTE, so I think it is about time that there was the possibility of ABSTAINING! Or perhaps now is a very good time for a completely NEW PARTY!
Many thanks. I think Cameron is in real danger of taking Project Fear too far and just making himself and his top team look weak. If this runs away from them, it could totally shake up the Conservative leadership race – with the outside chance that the Tories might end up with a new leader actually worth voting for! But this would require the Leave side to win the EU referendum, of course, which must be our first priority.
Like you, I struggle to think who I would vote for at the next general election if things remain as they are. The Conservatives under Cameron are not conservative, but simply Tony Blair’s New Labour continued. And UKIP seem to be moving away from their more libertarian roots into a very authoritarian party as they soak up so many new disaffected Labour voters. Maybe you’re right – maybe the best option is a new party.
In more or less specific period historical terms, I think there’s a clear interpretation that Cameron, and separately that many Parliamentarians are eliciting. Not just that they don’t want to conduct UK politics independent from the strictures of the EU, but in fact they’re stating a more or less unambiguous posture that they have no intentions whatsoever in conducting UK Politics outside of the EU.
More and more between the lines, the clear subtext is ‘…doesn’t matter how you vote. WE hold the levers, not you…’….
Agreed – that certainly seems to be the message emanating from David Cameron and Philip Hammond. They have no desire to return to self-governance, and in fact are frightened by the very idea.