Michael Fabricant is MP for Lichfield.
During dinner recently, a friend of mine described how he is being treated for anxiety disorder by his longstanding psychotherapist. He is encouraged to identify his ‘inaccurate’ thoughts, which are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions, and refute them in his mind over and over again. By challenging these cognitive distortions, he aims slowly to diminish them over time and replace them with a more rational, balanced mental attitude.
As we settled the bill after dinner, I reflected on the positive progress that he has made in our three years of friendship. However, it also got me thinking about those who are the most vociferous of campaigners wanting to remain in the European Union. Their minds seemed to have convinced themselves of things that aren’t really true, and of what forms the basis of “Project Fear”.
Much of my friend’s treatment is based on the work of David Burns, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who broadly identifies a number of distortions, which left unchallenged, can result in unhelpful twisted thinking. This is the trap that many Remain campaigners seem to have fallen into, and here is why – distortion by distortion:
1) All or nothing thinking: This tends to be associated with seeing the world in black and white. Your average Remain campaigner would have you believe that we will either descend into chaos by leaving the EU or advance into a golden age of prosperity by remaining. The reality, as with most things in life, will probably be less monochrome.
2) Overgeneralisation and jumping to conclusions: The portrayal of Brexit as a never-ending pattern of defeat – and the alarmist conclusions that follow – must surely be challenged. If we leave, will the French immediately stop exporting champagne to the UK or the Germans their cars – to their biggest export market in the EU? A shopkeeper never bans his best customer. Or will the English Channel somehow evaporate, allowing a mass invasion of asylum seekers from France, resulting in a migrant camp the size of Torquay in Kent? Astonishing – yet these conclusions have seriously been suggested.
3) Discounting the positives: Our financiers in the City of London are not an inadequate gaggle of co-dependent traders. More Euros are dealt in London’s foreign exchange markets than in all the markets of the actual Eurozone. The EU currently represents around 30 per cent of London’s business exports. The rest of the EU needs skills from London just as much, if not more, than London needs these services from the rest of the EU. Yet all this and more is discounted by those who argue to remain. Meanwhile, I cannot believe that allowing the European Union to take a ponderous lead in trade negotiations, hoping somehow that British priorities for trade and commerce can be assimilated with those of Greece, is the best strategy for an ambitious global trading policy.
4) Magnification or minimisation: This involves blowing issues out of all proportion. There are so many examples of these put forward by the remain campaigners – one of the latest being that our intelligence services would be immediately cast adrift on leaving the EU. despite existing long-standing and close-linked intelligence operations between Five Eyes (a joint intelligence pool shared by the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), Interpol and Europol (which cooperates with non-EU countries including, Albania and Australia),
5) Emotional Reasoning: If we leave the tabernacle of the EU, the whole continent will descend into war as Angela Merkel marches triumphantly through the Arc de Triomphe. Not only is this risible, it is deeply insulting to the motives of modern, democratic Germany. Those who argue this view for Remain have little understanding of the dynamics of modern Europe.
6) ‘Should statements’, labelling and personalisation: This is where you criticise someone because you believe that they ‘should’ be doing what you want them to do. You may also give them a label and expect them to behave in a certain way. For instance, many Remainers seem to suggest that if you are a businessman, farmer or single mother you ‘should’ be voting to remain in the EU regardless of any personally held convictions. I guess I could say that the EU ‘should’ have been able to sign off its own internal audit at some stage during the last 20 years, especially as the UK has given it £500 billion since 1973.
7) Mental Filter: If a handful of FTSE 100 CEOs, many of whom originally argued for Britain to join the Euro, now argue that Britain should remain in the EU that does not mean that all businesses agree and that commercial activity will move to Paris if we vote to leave. The reality is that such companies as Vauxhall, Bentley, General Motors, Barclays and JCB have all stated that their investments will remain if we vote to leave. Indeed, Perspective Research Services found last year that 73 per cent of British businesses believe that Britain would be more prosperous if we took powers back from the EU, including international trade agreements. And that’s not surprising. The US had to take into account dumping from low wage economies such as Romania in negotiating their recent deal with the EU.
On June 23rd, people will make a judgement based partly on emotion and partly on the facts. That the future is uncertain whether we remain in or leave the EU is the only fact that can be taken as the gospel truth. But distortions run the risk of making Britain look diminished in the eyes of world, and I do not believe that that such negative rhetoric will gain much salience in our country. Voters can be remarkably perceptive – even if the Government throws £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money back at them.