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 and has suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers with anti-EU agendas and little regard for balanced reporting2. 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 reason for this is that Brexit relied on short-sighted one-liner slogans, which appealed to the uneducated. Only now, in 2019, are there signs that we are beginning to tackle the details. At some point soon, it will be the right time for a referendum.
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 UK's House of Commons has found that the Vote Leave campaign involved "serious breaches" of campaign law5, especially "in their use of social media"6, and several key campaign groups (i.e. UKIP) were funded by Russian-interest groups. Likewise, anti-EU campaigners in the USA donated significant time and effort to the Leave campaign - contributing an equivalent value of millions of dollars - especially with regards to Steve Bannon and Arron Banks7. The illegal activities of Cambridge Analytica influenced an uncountable number of people with targeted misinformation, based on data obtained from a Facebook data breach. Vote Leave intentionally broke electoral law during its campaign when it donated hundreds of thousands of pounds in order to get around campaigning spending limits8 and Leave.EU has also been found in the central London county court of committing four electoral offences during their own campaign8. The online advertising gained through illegal overspending influenced "tens of millions" of people, and statistics show that it directly led to over 800,000 people changing their minds9. These illegal elements skewed the Brexit vote, made it invalid, and damaged UK democracy. 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 debate was poor quality and "a distinctly unpleasant affair"10 and lacked the calm rationality required for a referendum.
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.”
"In search of a new deal for Britain" by George Parker and Quentin Peel (2013)11 in The Financial Times
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 falsehoods10. 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.”
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) had funding from Russian-interest groups who have also been funding similar anti-EU movements throughout Europe. Likewise, anti-EU campaigners in the USA donated significant time and effort to the Leave campaign - contributing an equivalent value of millions of dollars - especially with regards to Steve Bannon and Arron Banks7. The involvement of Aaron Banks (co-founder of Leave.EU) 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 Steel12. 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.”
"Disinformation and 'fake news´: Interim Report" by House of Commons (UK Government) (2018)13
A large quantity of personal information was obtained by Cambridge Analytica via a breach of Facebook personal data in 201414.
The involvement of these misinformation techniques and the foreign funding are both plainly illegal under UK law. Aside from that, Vote Leave intentionally broke electoral law during its campaign when it donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to Darren Grimes in order to get around fair advertising and campaigning spending limits8 and Leave.EU has also been found in the central London county court of committing four electoral offences during their own campaign8. Vote Leave may well have tried to hide its most serious breaches of the law until after Brexit day (30th of April), but on the 30th itself (after Brexit was delayed) it finally gave up, withdrawing its formal appeal.
Data analyst Professor Philip Howard at Oxford University estimates that the online advertising gained through illegal overspending by Vote Leave influenced "tens of millions" of people, and statistics show that it directly led to over 800,000 people changing their minds9. This is more than enough (by 200,000) to have actually changed the result of the vote. These illegal elements skewed the Brexit vote and damaged UK democracy: Brexit is undemocratic and unconstitutional until a fair Referendum is held.
All of the most-popular UK newspapers have run 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.15,2