Before the UK's EU referendum vote, the pro-remain half of the UK government sent a leaflet out to homes which made the case for remaining. (There is a pdf of it here)
It was not well received by the Euro-sceptic press or leave advocates.
For example, the Daily Express, quoting Nigel Farage, ran the headline "How to return your EU 'propaganda' leaflet BACK to Downing Street" with detailed instructions of exactly where to send it; the Mail ran an opinion header of '[UK prime minister] Cameron's 9 million pro-EU mailshot stinks. So I'm sending mine straight back!' with pro-Brexit Tory MPs suggesting the leaflet was an 'insult' to voters, and 'an outrageous way to spend taxpayer's money'.
It therefore seems a good idea to revisit the leaflet now: was it prescient, or propaganda?
|Government Claim in support of staying in EU||Analysis|
|The UK has special status in the EU||True, the UK has the most number of opt-outs of any member country, meaning the UK accrues some of the benefits of membership without paying the costs. Demographics suggest that even if the UK does leave, younger voters and politicians will soon re-join the UK, but it will be without many of the current privileges.|
|The UK won't be adopting the Euro (EU currency)||Unclear. Short/Medium term the government had a promise on this, but it is difficult to predict what would have happened long term. Either way, Brexit is diminishing some of the advantages of UK retaining Sterling (through predicted Sterling/Euro parity soon; through generating threats to financial sector when the retention of Sterling had provided a protective buffer against global shocks, etc)|
|the UK will keep control of her Borders||True, The UK has a legally binding agreement with the EU that it won't join the Schengen area (open borders) which can't be amended unless the UK requests it is.|
|Tough new restrictions on welfare for Immigrants||True. The UK government already had powers to remove EU migrants who are depending on the welfare state for too long, they just did not monitor or enforce (so any problem here, was not the EU's fault).|
|Reducing Red Tape||True. Most of the EU countries want to reduce red tape and the EU are already working on it. Brexit threatens more red tape at borders (if Customs Union status changes) rather than less.|
|Leaving would create uncertainty and risks foreign investment in UK falling||True. The bank of England (August 2017) have said they now expect 20 percent less investment in the UK by 2020 due to Brexit.|
|Cost of living will go up if UK leaves||True. Recent stats show the pound had fallen overall in value by 18 percent since the referendum, so things like butter, computer software, and meat have gone up in price whilst predictions for wage growth are being revised downwards. Commentators have pointed out that this raises the risk of recession as consumer spending falls, with enhanced risk because large parts of the population are deeply in debt.|
|Travelling to Europe would be harder and more expensive.||True. The UK gets fewer Euros per pound so European holidays are more expensive, and the boss of Ryan Air has been very clear that Brexit is potentially going to cause chaos for airlines (see felixmagazine.com link below)|
|Mobile roaming charges are to be removed across the EU.||True. This was done|
|Healthcare whilst in the EU will be more expensive and difficult. ||Unclear. David Davis is making promises that the UK will cover the cost if the EU don't, but debate is ongoing. The UK's NHS is also threatened with increased privatisation so it is not clear what Davis can offer in return for any commitment from the EU on this point.|
|Prediction: 10 years or more of uncertainty. ||True. This has started. Mark Carney admitted (3rd of August in the FT) that monetary policy makers no longer have control over the "big, big macro decisions" due to Brexit uncertainty, and neither of the UK's main political parties have yet been clear (for any sustained period of time) on what their goals are. Experts are clear though (Trade experts and Economists) that if the UK persists on current course, it has years of uncertainty ahead.|
|A good deal would be difficult to achieve due to the imbalance in trade (44% of UK exports go to the EU; only 8% of the EU's exports come to us)||True. Even government ministers have now started back tracking on their earlier negligent optimism: current Tory ministers promised the UK population during the referendum that bilateral trade agreement would be easy, the UK's international trade secretary said only two months ago that it would be 'one of the easiest deals in history' but David Davis has just said 'nobody ever pretended this would be simple or easy'.|
|Trade deals take many years to formulate and agree||True. Canada's deal with the EU took 7 years and a quick search throws up lots of articles (i.e. in the Telegraph, the Guardian, opinions from former ambassadors and trade experts, etc.) that say a bespoke EU/UK trade deal could take 10 years to agree. |
|Tthe UK will lose influence and benefits (i.e. the best deal, is the one we currently have)||True. Losing some influence and control is inevitable: countries with access to the single market which aren't full members, have reduced say in what rules they have to comply with. Regarding benefits, the UK is negotiating to try to retain some (some commentators have dryly suggested, the UK seems to want to retain all of them), but the oft repeated analogy is that if the EU is a tennis club, you can't stop paying your fees, leave, and yet still turn up every day to play tennis.|
|UK's financial Sector is vulnerable if we leave.||True. London remains the world's biggest financial sector, but that may change, as European capitals are successfully competing to attract jobs and investments that are or would have been located in the UK. The Chancellor has admitted this is a serious concern, and the city are desperately trying to find a way to mitigate the inevitable damage (see link).|
|Being in the EU is safer||Likely True. Despite not being part of Schengen for example, the UK currently has access to the relevant (SIS) database of known criminals. The UK can already perform checks on people at borders, from anywhere in the world, so there's no improvement in that regard either. The UK government has tried to use removal of UK security co-operation as a threat to the EU previously, but is now requesting a deal in this area 'to maintain operational capabilities' so that seems to be confirmation that Brexit represents increased risk to security.|
|Financial benefits of EU membership exceed the costs||Likely True. It seems to be common sense, and many experts agree. Here's the CBI on the matter: "A CBI literature review suggests that the net benefit of EU membership to the UK could be in the region of 4-5% of GDP or £62bn-£78bn a year" and the chair of the UK's national statistics authority has just reminded a government minister that they should stop mis-using national statistics (hyping the costs of membership without mentioning the concomitant benefits) in pursuit of Brexit.
|EU Membership guarantees employment rights||True. And the rights are now threatened. The right wing economic case for Brexit was based on assumptions that things like the working time directive would be written out of our laws; there was also mention of threat to gender equality laws and a suggestion that wage inequality would increase. |
|Membership of the EU increases the UK's global influence.||True. The UK had a bridge-into-Europe status which caused businesses to open offices in the UK and was a key factor in the 'special relationship' with the US. Whilst never losing sovereignty (the pro-Brexit Tory gov. admitted this in the exit briefing papers, 2017) the UK did gain influence through being a leading member of the EU.|
Overwhelmingly then, the pro-EU government leaflet was comprised of facts; it was not misleading so it seems wrong to call it propaganda.
Taking it further, maybe it was propaganda to call it propaganda? The same papers that criticised it have excelled themselves in publishing numerous misleading immigration stories (and immigration was the number one reason for people voting leave) and one of the editors claimed that their paper was an 'architect' of the leave vote (implying the paper had a strategy to get the UK to leave the EU).
Should certain papers have been trying to get their readers to devalue facts related to the negative impacts of leaving the EU in order to get those readers to vote leave?
The referendum was confusing for the UK population. Thanks to minimal efforts by the Euro-sceptic official opposition, the debate was predominantly government MPs arguing against each other which is an unusual spectacle, in public at least, so there was no simple option ("I always vote for political party xyz, so I will vote with what they say").
That meant that clear factual information would have been highly useful but polls have shown that many UK voters think they were mis-informed, or inadequately informed.
So what seems to have happened is that those who had enhanced access (by reading a fact based newspaper) or ability to find facts and the analytical agility to consider a variety of perspectives, tended (generalising; this is the trend, but there were exceptions of course) to vote to remain in the EU for concrete, valid reasons.
Those that relied on newspapers that have a problematic relationship with the importance of facts, tended to vote leave based on information that was incorrect (i.e. Immigration, control and sovereignty were highly important reasons for voting leave (source, Oxford Uni research, published by Reuters) but in reality, immigration is quite clearly a boon to the UK, not a problem; as mentioned above, the UK never lost control of it's borders; and even the current pro-Brexit government admit the UK never lost sovereignty whilst in the EU).
This wouldn't have been a huge problem if not for two further failures by the UK's MPs. MPs campaigning for leave told the population things that were incorrect (the much maligned promise of £350 million extra per week for the NHS for example; or that the Brexit process would be easy because the EU needs the UK). The media with a leave bias then repeated and amplified that misinformation with some impunity - if a government ministers says something, it can't be too awful for a paper to repeat it.
And after the referendum, the government adopted the 'Will of the People' as their excuse for driving Brexit though without due process but that effectively meant the future of the country became based on the opinions of the least well informed (this is not the people's fault; the media breached their duty to report news factually (witness complaints to IPSO during referendum period) but it was down to the UK's politicians to behave sensibly after the referendum with due process and care, and the Euro-sceptic left and right failed to do so, thereby consigning the UK to completely unnecessary chaos, damage and division)
Certain paper's focus on whimsical fairy tales rather than facts around Europe is nothing new. A Survey early in the millennium showed that the UK population were among the least knowledgeable about Europe, partly because the most read papers in the UK are renowned for their inaccuracy, bias and sometimes, bile.
But if we accept that the same papers that were accusing government facts of being propaganda, excelled at dressing their own chosen political propaganda up as facts then the relationship of these papers to their readers, to politicians, and to the whole UK, begins to look deeply problematic.