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Brexit: The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

15/06/2016 12:13 | Updated 15 June 2016

If you can't convince'em, confuse'em.

This seems to be the tactic adopted, to great effect, by the Leave campaign ever since it became clear that facts, expert views and indeed the reality of economics and international relations were not on their side.

Predictably enough, the Leave camp promptly shifted the line of attack onto immigration, in itself a time-honoured and convenient catch-all for harnessing popular discontent on all sorts of things. Worried about the economy? National security? Public services? The answer is always too many immigrants.

From the very beginning, Leave campaigners gave themselves a blank cheque for scaremongering by quickly pinning the label of "Project Fear" onto their opponents, which the media duly lapped up.

But they've recently gone one better. With supreme irony, the campaign whose spiritual leader is Nigel Farage - whose party has brought us such musical gems as this and this - is now trying to paint itself as the progressive choice, in a classic case of the bully blaming the victim. People who are "establishment" to the core now dismiss experts as elitist. The man who has presided over the most ruthless assault on disability benefits is now a champion of the "have-nots". And the man who would be Prime Minister has suddenly discovered a rather uncharacteristic, Kilroy-style nationalist zeal, offering us a highly unusual version of history. Forget Corbyn - this is your new Team Anti-Establishment.

Just like the wolf in sheep's clothing, this campaign is based on deception. They're lying about immigration. They're lying about the economy. They're lying about the EU. And they're lying about fighting your corner.

Of all the lies peddled by the Leave campaign, perhaps my favourite is that Brexit will benefit young people. Young people have a huge stake in this referendum. They know that being in the EU gives them more opportunities, more connections, and broader horizons. So does the Leave camp: that's why many of them opposed extending the registration deadline. So much for championing young people's interests. Or democracy.

"Trust me," whispers the wolf.

To be fair, the Leave campaign has actually done something remarkable: it has made people from all professions, all political persuasions and all walks of life come together in unprecedented unity to oppose them. This includes all the main political parties, business leaders, scientists, security experts, academics, and more - all speaking from a position of great information about their own areas, and all in agreement: Brexit is a very bad idea.

On switching to Remain, Dr. Sarah Wollaston MP, who knows the NHS inside out, destroyed any credibility which the Leave camp claimed to have on reinvesting in public services at a stroke by labelling their statements "shameful".

Now even the Acrhbishop of Canterbury has come out for Remain, echoing the words of the Pope earlier this year when he commented that building walls between people was "not the Christian way".

These are not Steve Hilton's "self-serving elites": they are people who know their stuff, and unlike the career politicians on the other side, they have every reason to speak truthfully and to care about what happens to their area of expertise.

The Leave camp's response is a din of dismissal. Experts? Nonsense! Dangers of Brexit? Scaremongering! Statements by foreign leaders? Hypocrites! The British people have "had enough" of experts, we're told, by someone who clearly feels that he speaks for them.

"Don't listen to them", whispers the wolf. "It's one big conspiracy, one giant bluff."

Last week I got a leaflet through my door. It was plain white, with "Official information about the EU referendum" written across the top, and FACTS written in red. The main "facts"? The EU costs the UK £350m a week (false), and Turkey and Albania are joining the EU (false). At the back, on the very last line, it identified itself as a Vote Leave leaflet.

This leaflet is a revelation. It's the moment the mask falls away; the moment when Little Red Riding Hood says, with a trembling voice, "...And Grandma, what big teeth you have!"

What campaign which believed in its statements, which had confidence in its arguments, and which had any respect for its audience, would resort to pretending to be somebody else?

Don't be fooled: this is xenophobic ideology masquerading as impartial information, and it speaks volumes about Vote Leave's regard for the truth, and regard for democracy.

Speaking to people in my community, it is startling to see how many people are genuinely very worried - and frightened - of what will happen to this country, should Gove, Boris and Farage win this vote.

"Follow me," whispers the wolf

There is a remarkable cartoon by Disney from 1943 called Chicken Little, less than 9 minutes long, which has some uncanny parallels to what we're hearing today from the Leave camp. Watch it - it's possibly Disney's greatest piece of work.

I wish to leave you with one last thought. The two statesmen who arguably best embody a sense of Britishness - both experts in their field - are Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. The former introduced the idea of a United States of Europe; the latter kept us in it.

The sky isn't falling. Experts aren't fools, and they aren't hypocrites. Wolves are wolves, whatever they're dressed as.

If there's anyone we ought to be keeping out, it's the wolf at the door.

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