By Vexen Crabtree 2018
The UK population did not have enough realistic information about the EU to make an informed decision on whether they should vote Remain or Leave. The UK's citizens are the least knowledgeable about the EU out of all its members1. The UK has suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers2. Of those who voted in the Brexit vote, 70% of those with the worst education voted to Leave but amongst those with degree level education or higher, only 32% did3. The Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings admitted in 2017 Feb that the public voted to exit the EU as a result of lies and misinformation4. The Remain campaign was more honest but it was very sparse, and the mass media chose to only pick up on the disreputable "project fear" element (knee-jerk claims that painted an unbelievably dystopian future if the UK left the EU). In total, the entire campaign was poor quality and "a distinctly unpleasant affair"5.
Of all EU countries, it is the UK's citizens who are the least knowledgeable about the EU (the most well-informed are those in Slovenia, Luxembourg and Croatia)1. Humorously, data released by Google shows that ... well, the Washington Post's article on it summarized it the best: "The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it" (2016 Jun 24). The UK has suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers2 that have managed to misinform the masses on almost every aspect of EU involvement with the UK.
“Denis MacShane, a former Labour Europe minister, says there may be a simple explanation of why Downing Street missed the celebrations in Berlin and why other EU leaders are suspicious of Mr Cameron: They read our papers and we don't read theirs.”
Knowledge and education were key deciding factors in the Brexit vote. Out of those who voted, 70% of those with the worst education voted to Leave (just GCSEs or lower). But amongst those with degree level education or higher, only 32% voted to Leave3. The better educated voted Remain, just like, throughout Europe, those who know more about the EU also have better opinions of the EU.
Several of the campaigns against the EU in the referendum on Brexit have unravelled and key Brexit campaign positions have turned out to be based on falsehoods5. A very large number of biased (but very popular) newspapers ran a long series of anti-EU and pro-Brexit pieces, especially The Daily Express (and its Sunday edition) 2. In a truly shocking revelation, the Leave campaign Director Dominic Cummings admits that the public voted to exit the EU as a result of lies and misinformation.
“Buried in a 19,800 word Spectator essay written by former online editor and Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings is an admission: The Brexit referendum was won by lying to the public. [...] There is the admission that the NHS wouldn´t really take back our £350 million EU fee, and that immigration wouldn't really be capped, and that standards of living wouldn´t really change if we left the EU. All of which are matters that the general public voted on, and all are incorrect.”
"Vote Leave director admits they won because they lied to the public" by TheLondonEconomic (2017 Feb 08)4
The Remain campaign was not intentionally deceitful but it was very sparse, and the mass media chose to only pick up on the "project fear" element, which saw most of the arguments for Remain ignored, except for the knee-jerk claims that painted an unbelievably dystopian future if the UK left.
“The campaign was a distinctly unpleasant affair, in which the Leave campaign relied on its open-ended but smart slogan of Take Back Control, supported by a series of demonstrably false statements about the EU, while the Remain campaign´s slogan was a poorly argued claim of Stronger In, reinforced by rather apocalyptic speculations of the economic consequences of Brexit.”
In the UK, "Spending on election or referendum campaigns by foreign organisations or individuals is not allowed"; yet several key campaign groups (i.e. UKIP) were funded by Russian-interest groups have have been funding similar anti-EU movements throughout Europe, and by American donations of effort and time, especially with regards to Steve Bannon and Arron Banks10. The involvement of the latter in a series of irregular, abusive and manipulative techniques on Facebook resulted in widespread misinformation, and was a major boost to the Leave campaign.
Cambridge Analytica was introduced to Leave.EU and introduced to the Brexiteer Arron Banks by Steve Bannon, Trump's Chief Strategist in the White House, and a Cambridge Analytica invoice to UKIP was billed via Steve Bannon's company, Glittering Steel11. Steve Bannon abusive outlets such as Breitbart News and his overall status as a hate-preacher have, in 2018, led to his loss of some of his platforms, but, he continues to campaign against the EU in an obnoxious and ill-informed manner: His style is to shout the loudest, rather than to spread factual information.
“Cambridge Analytica was founded in 2012, with backing from the US hedge fund billionaire and Donald Trump donor, Robert Mercer, who became the majority shareholder. He was the largest donor to the super political action committee (PAC) that supported the presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Christopher Wylie argued that the funding of Cambridge Analytica enabled Mr Mercer to benefit from political campaigns that he supported, without directly spending money on them, thereby bypassing electoral finance laws. [...]
Cambridge Analytica was born out of the already established SCL consultancy, which had engaged in political campaigns around the world, using specialist communications techniques previously developed by the military to combat terror organisations.”
A large quantity of personal information was obtained by Cambridge Analytica via a breach of Facebook personal data in 201413.
The involvement of these techniques, the foreign funding and foreign effort, is plainly illegal under UK law, and it skewed the Brexit vote, and damaged UK democracy. Combined with other sources of information (such as UK newspapers), the result was the vote was invalid, because the electorate did not have correct information.
All of the most-popular UK newspapers have ran long-term anti-EU campaigns. In itself, this is perfectly acceptable. It is the job of the mass media to ask awkward questions. The problem has been the quality of the debate. When examining misleading articles, a list of 548 pieces reveals the scope of the problem: The Daily Mail published 116 untrue articles, followed by 89 by The Telegraph (which many normally assume has a proper regime of fact-checking - not when it comes to the EU, however) and 79 by The Sun. In every single case, all of the 548 articles were biased in an anti-EU direction. The list of errors and repeated (false) claims are sometimes ludicrous, but often, are widely believed. The articles frequently repeat lies and false stories about EU rules, migration, employment, usage of the NHS and crime. This is a large part of the reason why the UK is so misinformed about the EU.14,2
Current edition: 2018 Dec 09
Originally published 2018 Jun 12
Parent page: UK Brexit from the EU: Disorganized, Unclear and Unprepared
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
House of Commons (UK Government)
(2018) Disinformation and 'fake news´: Interim Report. Published by House of Commons (UK Government). Fifth Report of Session 2017–19 together with formal minutes relating to the report. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 24 July 2018. A briefing paper.
(2017 Mar 26) 9 Pro-Brexit Stories Since Proven To Be Utterly Inaccurate. Date last accessed 2018 Jun 12. An article.
Parker & Peel
(2013) In search of a new deal for Britain. Originally published 2013 Jan 16. An Article in The Financial Times
(2013) Britain and the EU: In or Out?. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Drawn from articles originally published in the Financial Times between 1975 and March 2013. An e-book.
(2017 Feb 08) Vote Leave director admits they won because they lied to the public. Date last accessed 2017 Jul 28. An article.