Could Brexit get any worse? Yes, apparently, and that’s before we hit “Armageddon”, according to papers leaked from the government’s Department for Exiting the EU.
The “top secret” report – said to have been kept locked in a safe but now all over the papers – warns that Scottish supermarkets could run out of food in just two days and medical supplies within two weeks in the absence of a Brexit deal.
And this is just scenario two out of three – a mild one, a severe one and the worst one, dubbed “Armageddon” where we would be brought to our knees – drawn up by civil servants as part of a contingency planning exercise.
This is Project Fear in extremis – but we know it must be true because it was the front page splash story in The National this week – the organ that campaigns for Scottish independence. “Secret government ‘ARMAGEDDON’ report reveals Brexit will leave Scotland’s supermarkets empty,” screamed the fearful headline.
A source told The Sunday Times, which first broke the story: “In the second scenario, not even the worst, the port of Dover will collapse on day one. The supermarkets in Cornwall and Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within two weeks.” Officials would have to charter aircraft, or use the RAF to ferry supplies to the furthest corners of the UK. “You would have to medevac medicine into Britain, and at the end of week two we would be running out of petrol as well,” the source said. How more Orwellian can it get?
Four years ago, the SNP was denouncing Westminster’s Project Fear in the indy ref campaign. But, for The National, it’s Brexit Project Fear good, indy ref Project Fear bad. And that was a cadet version compared with this.
Just where can the latest Project Fear go from here? Radio and TV interrupted for details of local standpipes and foodbank deliveries?
Any more of this and the Home Guard will soon be reformed along our coastal towns, Lance Corporal Jones running the emergency food lorries and Captain Mainwaring holding riot control practice in the Warminster-on-Sea village hall. Our very own finance minister Derek Mackay could step up as ARP warden Hodges, Fiona Hyslop as the wily Private Walker and Fergus Ewing as the “we’re a’ doomed” Private Frazer.
Enough already – though looming critical Commons votes could see more of this in the coming days. But a cursory consideration of this middle scenario – not Armageddon, just “severe” – reveals its implausibility. The woefully unprepared port of Dover, it warns, would be paralysed by customs mayhem. But why just Dover? Would not the same chaos apply to Leith, Aberdeen and Clydeside? At our airports, would fully up-to-date and functioning customs facilities be mysteriously available? Or might the airports, too, be paralysed?
We would then be reliant on something akin to the Berlin airlift when giant US cargo planes dropped essential food and medicines in Germany’s devastated capital to beat the Soviet blockade. Or how about a Dunkirk-style fleet of thousands of little boats ferrying vital supplies from the beaches of northern France?
In any event, there’s never been a limit to the resourcefulness of smugglers – both of “contraband” and human traffickers – landing at a thousand and one points round our coasts. For Scotland, think the arrival of Bonny Prince Charlie. For Cornwall, it would be Poldark without the three-cornered hats.
And why just Cornwall and Scotland? Conservative MEP Rupert Matthews has a theory that may delight The National. “If Scottish folks face starvation that will push them that way ... It is a typical ploy in a con to invoke a place or date close enough to be worrying, but not so close that the listener knows that the tall tale being told is ridiculous. Tell a Londoner that Cornwall will starve and he will worry. Tell him London will starve and he will laugh at you.”
How much of this scare-mongering is taken seriously by voters? After all, senior Government ministers in the Remain camp at the time of the EU referendum warned that the UK would be plunged into recession. It didn’t happen. They warned that unemployment would soar. It didn’t happen. They said the budget deficit would explode. It didn’t happen.
The economy is growing, if only at a modest pace. Numbers in work have climbed to equal their record high. Unemployment is its lowest since 1970. And the budget deficit has continued to fall, from £57.2 billion in 2016 to £37.5bn last year.
Project Fear politics runs into the Law of Diminishing Returns. People switch off. None of this, however, lets the government off the hook. Indeed, much of the pessimism is due to the prolonged dither and confusion at the heart of government. It seems none the wiser as to what sort of Brexit it wants and it has failed to mount a positive case for leaving the EU. The result is a growing loss of confidence and morale across the country as a whole about the outcome of Brexit.
Little wonder a new poll among Conservative supporters this week shows a truly dire set of personal approval ratings for Cabinet ministers – and in particular a slump to near rock bottom in support for Theresa May. She has gone from a positive approval rating into negative figures at the Tory grassroots over the direction – or more accurately the lack of it – she is taking the country on Brexit.
Michael Gove and Sajid Javid top the poll with positive ratings of 72.5 and 70.4 respectively. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson scores the third highest at 67.7. Boris Johnson hovers in the middle with a score of 37.6. But second from bottom on the ranking list of 31 senior Tory figures is Theresa May with a score of minus 9.5, her blushes spared only by chancellor Philip Hammond with a score of minus 24.8.
What an abject verdict among even Conservative supporters, many of them fuming at what they see as a failure to stand up to Brussels. Worse than Project Fear, it seems, is Project Dither and Fudge.