First we were accused of ‘Project Fear’, because we pointed out that making it more difficult to trade with countries next to you would hurt the economy. Now we are accused of acting like scientists working for the Nazis.
The waves of economists, businessmen, scientists, university leaders, doctors, historians and more shouting loud that Brexit would be harmful has been incredibly impressive. It reflects the fact that this is not a debate with decent arguments on both sides, but a pretty open and shut case. But I think it reflects as well the nature of the pro-Brexit campaign.
Not just that Leave have lied openly and repeatedly. Not just that they have used lies to provoke fear (Turkey). It is that they are trying to deflect the blame for failing to adequately fund public services on to migrants who are just looking for a better life. And it is working. More people feel they have personally benefited from migration than otherwise, but most people also ‘know’ that migration has been bad for the NHS. Such incorrect beliefs appear immune to expert opinion because large parts of the media shut that opinion out, and ideologues deride experts.
Of course these lies play on basic fears about unfamiliar people. But the way our society used to respond to this in the past was by uniting behind truth and humanity, and through patient explanation. If some politicians tried to fan fears of migration by, for example, talking about rivers of blood they were quickly slammed down by the majority, and it has to be said also by the media. And our society was better for it.
Today those politicians talking about a breaking point in front of pictures of refugees are given large amounts of air time by the broadcast media. Those pretending we are about to be swamped by Turkish migrants are cheered on by nearly all of the tabloid press. Populist politicians are about to lead once proud centre right parties on both sides of the Atlantic. And one brave Yorkshire politician that argued against all this was shot dead in the street.
We cannot continue to let this pass. It will not stop with Brexit. When Brexit fails to improve our public services or our economy there will be other scapegoats. Maybe migrants already here, or nasty foreigners who failed to give the beneficial trade deals the Leave campaign pretend we will get. In the US right now it is already happening, and this Brexit campaign shows that the UK has no inbuilt immunity to it. This is how it goes, as it has gone in the past.
We cannot let this pass.