How did communications make Brexit happen?

In the light of that the Brexit divorce is due to start at the end of the month, this post looks into how political PR and communication set Britain on this track.

It is common knowledge that one of the British media main characteristics that the newspapers have an editorial positions, which is true for the media in most countries, as Druckman and Parkin also point out. (For example in the case of Brexit: newspapers leaning towards Leave were The Sun and The Daily Telegraph; while The Guardian and the Daily Mirror had an editorial position leaning towards the Remain campaign). Britain has been a member of the European Union for 44 years, the EU is made up by many complex treaties and agreements, in this long relationship the ties of the membership have become very complex.

Agenda setting and priming

First problem that arises from these is that the editorial slant will not only result in editorial and opinionated news, but also these newspapers work with sources that are close to them, and with voices, which are favourable for them. As Berkowitsch and Adams write the media definitely has a gatekeeper role and the news are shaped. Secondly, instead of having emphasised how complex the topic was, it got oversimplified. Step by step the public attention has been taken away from the big problems and rather got ‘primed’ on Cameron’s negotiations results with the EU, which was perceived negatively by the British public. Even Brexit, the name was priming the word ’exit’.


Selecting an ‘either- or’ frame for the issue has further narrowed the discussion on the topic; it made both sides present narratives without properly explained figures or facts. This frame prevented a meaningful debate to happen, both the Remain and Leave sides stayed in their own narrative, as a consequence of the binary framing. The two campaigns’ perceived realities have also distorted the risk picture, as Robert Entman writes, therefore the real weight of the EU referendum was not fully considered by the voters.

The two clashing frames were: for the Leave campaign, they used a nationalistic narrative, triggering national pride to ‘take back control’ from Brussels. They also applied fear techniques with some of their messages, such as ‘Turkey will join the EU in 2020’ or that ‘350 million euro is sent to Brussels every week’. On the other hand, the Remainers were campaigning on uncertainty that it is unknown what leaving the EU could cause. This is considered as a mistake by many, since lot of people rather voted for uncertainty than wanted to keep the status quo.

How does the discussion look like now?

As we all know, narrowly but Brexit happened, people voted by 52% to 48% to leave. But the actual process is due to start at the end of this month. The actors of the conversations have changed, Scotland became one the most challenging voices for the British Prime Minister on the issue on domestic level. There is a clear backlash from the oversimplified question and mostly, uncertainty characterises the whole process.


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