Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: Why it’s time we consigned Brexit doom-mongers and their Project Fear predictions to the waste bin

So-called ‘experts’ were wrong about Maastricht Treaty and they’re wrong about leaving EU, writes Nelson McCausland

The flags of the United Kingdom and European Union outside Westminster
The flags of the United Kingdom and European Union outside Westminster

Room 101 is a BBC television comedy series in which celebrities discuss their pet hates and try to persuade the host, Frank Skinner, to commit them to oblivion in Room 101.

The name was inspired by a room in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was said to contain “the worst things in the world”. Ironically, Orwell named it after a room in BBC Broadcasting House.

The things proposed by the panellists for Room 101 are varied. Bob Monkhouse once proposed the French, Anne Robinson proposed the Welsh, Angus Deayton proposed cricket and Harry Hill suggested ice-cream vans.

This week I want to suggest that we consign to the oblivion of Room 101 ‘experts’ on Brexit. I’m thinking, in particular, of all those organisations, institutions, think-tanks and policy institutes which are trotted out as the experts in relation to Brexit.

They are overwhelmingly the purveyors of doom and gloom, the prophets of disaster and despair, and their predictions are treated by much of the media as authoritative and definitive.

They were in overdrive during phase one of Project Fear, in the lead-up to the EU referendum in 2016. Three years later, they are still hard at work.

I was recently asked on a radio programme about the latest dire warnings from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and it set me thinking about the prophetic credentials of the CBI, the International Monetary Fund and the many Europhiliac think-tanks which do much to meet the demands of the 24-hour news industry.

The big issue of the hour is Brexit and the European Union, but the European project of harmonisation, integration and unification, with the ultimate aim of a United States of Europe, has been around for many decades.

Twenty years ago, the issue of the hour, as regards Europe, was the euro, the new European Union currency, which was created under the Maastricht Treaty on the European Union and the question was whether Britain should adopt the euro.

There were strong voices in favour of abandoning the British pound, adopting the euro and joining the eurozone, and one of those voices was the CBI.

In 1998, the CBI’s director general, Adair Turner, told business leaders that the euro would “create a single market” and stimulate productivity.

The following year, he told the CBI conference that a majority of British businesses were in favour of joining the monetary union.

Then, in 2000, Sir Clive Thompson, president of the CBI, said that he was disappointed that the Government was wavering on the eurozone. “I believe, on balance, we should join,” he added.

There were also ardent pro-European politicians, such as Ken Clarke, Tony Blair and Chris Patten, all of whom were cheerleaders for the euro and are now vocal Remainers. They were wrong then about the euro and they are wrong now about Brexit.

In 2001, the Financial Times predicted that Greece would draw huge benefits from joining the eurozone. Then came the eurozone crisis in 2009 and those predictions were just a nonsense.

Thankfully, the United Kingdom resisted the arguments and the analysis of the CBI and others. We retained the British pound and avoided the eurozone, in spite of these experts, and it was certainly the right decision.

To have abandoned the pound and adopted the euro, as many experts advised, would have been a catastrophe for Britain.

In fairness to Adair Turner, now Baron Turner of Ecchinswell, he later admitted that he had been wrong about the euro, but it serves to remind us how fallible these experts and organisations can be.

Their views should be reported and interrogated, but they are not deserving of the sort of deference — almost reverence — they are accorded by many journalists.

That is why I treat the predictions of the CBI, the Financial Times and others with great caution and why there is great merit in the idea of consigning the expert doom-mongers to the infamous Room 101.

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