The Project Fear campaign during the Brexit referendum was a “giant error” and the Treasury predictions made were wrong to the tune of £100 billion, a major new report has found.
The paper by Timothy Congdon, a world leading monetary analyst, member of Economists for Free Trade, and founder of City firm Lombard Street Research, describes Project Fear – the brainchild of the former Chancellor, George Osborne – as a “gross miscarriage of government” that was wrong by nearly 5 per cent of GDP.
It says that the consequences of this enormous error have been seismic:
“Instead of employment falling by hundreds of thousands, it has risen by hundreds of thousands. Instead of house prices going down, they have gone up.
“Instead of the public finances lurching more heavily into deficit, they have been better than at any time since the Great Recession, making the prospect of an eventual surplus far from silly.
“Above all, Osborne’s scary rhetoric about a return of the Great Recession now looks preposterous.”
The difference between the Project Fear forecast and the reality was 4.6 per cent of GDP.
In an article to be published in the May edition of Standpoint magazine, Congdon considers two theories behind the blunders of Project Fear. The first is that Osborne breached the conventions of the UK’s unwritten constitution and abused the authority of the Treasury to give substance to lies. Civil servants had operated so closely to politicians that they lost their objectivity and saw themselves as serving those politicians.
The second theory is that the only advice Osborne received came from official economists who had no idea what they were talking about. So many economists were “parroting each other” that unanimity has to be taken at face value. If this were the case, “Osborne may not be a Svengali who corrupted the civil servants around him, but the innocent dupe of utterly incompetent and useless advisers who were carried away with their own tosh.”
The paper concludes that there was perhaps “a mixture of malice and ignorance, of wicked politics and trashy economics and that – as usual with other policy blunders in recent decades – it was more cock-up than conspiracy”.