The Electoral Commission has clearly stated (17 July 2018) that the Vote Leave campaign broke electoral law, and it has been referred to the police. To the chagrin of “remainers”, such illegal activities during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016 do not seem to be sufficient by themselves to annul the referendum, and justify a new one.
One of the main vehicles through which the leave campaign built support was through an impressive and effective social media campaign. Much of this was built on half-truths and emotive mis-representations. Rather than its illegality, the much more remarkable observation is that so many people were influenced by this campaign and apparently believed the claims being made. In part, this was because it resonated with their own concerns, but exaggerated them, making people much more fearful of remaining in the EU than they need actually have been. It is also undoubtedly the case that those supporting Remain ran a desperately poor and unimaginative campaign.
In seeking to unravel and understand why so many people accepted these half-truths and mis-representations, I have categorized some of the images used in the Vote Leave Twitter campaign (https://twitter.com/vote_leave) into the following themes, many of which undoubtedly intersect, thus reinforcing each other. I hope this encourages debate and discussion over the reasons why the UK has embarked on this desperately uninformed and misguided foray into apparent “independence” as its citizens sleepwalk into a Brexit catastrophe.
A fear of continued mass immigration was one of the most powerful projections of the campaign, especially from countries such as Turkey which the campaigners implied was imminently about to join the EU. Such immigration was primarily seen as being damaging to employment and the NHS.
Economic factors, including employment and tax
The UK economy was portrayed as being much stronger outside the EU, and the voices of apparently “trusted” senior figures in industry and government who supported Brexit (largely for their own interests) were used to support such arguments.
The financial savings from Brexit were portrayed as bringing a much needed fillip to the beleaguered National Health Service. One of the most believed assertions in the campaign was that Brexit would enable the UK to spend an additional £350 million a week, or £50 million a day, on the NHS.
Control of our own future
A powerful emotion conjured up by the Brexit campaign was that once the UK leaves the EU its citizens would have much greater control over their own future.
Support of the military
The Leave campaign also sought out the opinions of leading military figures who advocated that the UK would have greater political independence, and control over its own future, once it had left. This was widely supported by the Veterans for Britain campaign as highlighted below.
The wastage of EU bureaucracy
This was a favourite theme represented in many images, supporting the suggestion that we would be able to use all of the money that we had previously sent to the EU for our own direct benefit.
The Labour factor and Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn was widely cited as being critical of the EU in the hope of bringing out Labour supporters in favour of Brexit. Corbyn’s continue reticence to be critical of Brexit remains one of the largest factors likely to prevent the success of those demanding a second referendum on the terms of Brexit, and the aspirations of “remainers” that the first referendum will be overthrown.
The use of images of, and statements from, politicians who were considered to be trustworthy, such as Gove, Johnson, and indeed Corbyn above, was also a powerful element of the Leave campaign.
Get out and vote!
Finally, the Leave campaign was also active and successful in persuading its followers to get out and vote.