The term "Project Fear" has been used in British politics, including before, during and after the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership by those campaigning to leave the European Union. It denotes the alleged scaremongering and pessimism employed by those in favour of remaining in the EU. The phrase was coined by Rob Shorthouse, who was the "Better Together" campaign's director of communications during the Scottish independence referendum, and was later used by 'remain' supporters in the buildup to the "Britain Stronger In Europe" campaign during the EU membership referendum campaign.
On 23 June 2013, in an article marking the campaign's first anniversary, the Sunday Herald claimed that "Privately, some inside Better Together even refer to the organisation as Project Fear". The name "Project Fear" subsequently appeared in other news outlets and was co-opted by pro-independence campaigners. The following line of the Sunday Herald's article said that "[Blair] McDougall is unrepentant about the tactics", but on the following day's edition of Scotland Tonight McDougall denied ever hearing anyone use the term "Project Fear".
The former Mayor of London and key figurehead of the Leave campaign Boris Johnson argued that the pro-EU campaign in the 2016 EU referendum campaign was guilty of scaremongering, saying that "the agents of Project Fear" were trying to "spook" the British public into voting against British withdrawal from the EU, adding that "I am ever more convinced that the real risk is to sit back and do nothing, to remain inertly and complacently in an unreformed EU that is hell-bent on a federal project over which we have no control." The phrase was quickly picked up by the British media, who in September 2016 reported that ignoring the scaremongering had rewarded those with the insight to ignore the pessimism perpetuated by 'Project Fear' proponents after the FTSE250 broke all records in the months following the referendum to leave the EU.
The phrase was also used by those who were in favour of Britain remaining within the European Union, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that "The EU referendum is about our future relationship with Europe, not who is the next leader of the Tory Party ... the Labour leadership will not go anywhere near the Tories' 'project fear' campaign on both sides of the debate. But instead we will continue to set out the positive case to 'Remain and Reform' the EU to create 'Another Europe' ... Another Europe is not just possible but urgently and vitally needed, which is why we must reject the offer of a Tory Brexit.".
However, others have opposed the label. Alistair Darling says that "Project Fear? In fact, it is a reality check. The kind anyone would take before making such an enormous decision in their lives. So when Iain Duncan Smith claimed if we stay in the EU terrorists would find it easier to get into the UK, we are right to call him out." David Cameron rejected any allegations of fear-mongering, saying that "The only project I'm interested in is Project Fact. Project Fact is about saying: 'Stay in and you know what you'll get.'" Others, such as the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, have also pointed out that the Leave side were in fact scaremongering with false claims of imminent Turkish accession to the EU.
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