Here’s how Vote Leave used Jeremy Corbyn’s image to help win the Brexit vote

Leave campaign ad featuring Jeremy Corbyn
Fréa Lockley

On 23 June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU. Subsequent Brexit negotiations have been in chaos. Just over two years later, Theresa May announced that the UK will stockpile food because a no-deal exit seems increasingly likely. Added to this, Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and reported to the police for breaching election laws.

Several Leave campaigns advertised on Facebook in the run-up to the referendum. And now, leaked documents have revealed quite how sinister some of those adverts really were. From smearing Jeremy Corbyn and using alarming immigration ‘statistics’ to emotive images of dead whales, much of the Leave campaign truly was ‘Project Fear’.

Advertising standards?

On 19 July, Facebook sent details [pdf] of the adverts used by a number of key Leave groups to parliament. They were produced [pdf, p1] by AggregateIQ (AIQ), “on behalf of the Vote Leave and ‘50 Million’, BrexitCentral/BeLeave and DUP Vote to Leave campaigns”. According to the BBC, they were viewed over 169m times and cost over £2.7m. But many of the ads didn’t declare who placed them, or what they were for.

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On 26 July, several of the ads appeared on social media, including this one of Corbyn:

Advertising was used for data gathering during the referendum campaign. Dr Andrew Mullen, senior lecturer in international relations and politics at Northumbria University, writes that:

the Leave and Remain campaigns also used the internet and social media for intelligence gathering purposes to construct detailed and personalised voter profiles… data was then used to compile target lists for digital advertising, door knocking (e.g. Get Out the Vote operations) and telephone contacts.

But there’s no clue in the copy of many of the adverts to indicate the source, or that one click may give personal information away.

The content of the ads has provoked widespread concern:

Sinister

As Sophie Germain pointed out, the ads also played a far more sinister game. Because while some were anti-Corbyn, others appealed to people who support unions:

It seems that this strategy worked. Mullen went on to say that: 

the Leave campaign was much more successful at targeting than the Remain campaign. Although the result was close, that is the main reason why the Leave campaign was victorious.

Project Fear

The ads go further. Many play on the fears that came to dominate the referendum campaign throughout.

There was immigration:

Some played on fears about the NHS:

Or education:

And some ads were even more emotive:

Faker than fake

Even on the day of the referendum, polls indicated that Remain looked likely to win, with a predicted 52% of the vote. But the balance tipped in favour of leave, and the rest is history. 

So it’s possible that clicking on an ad of Corbyn or a dead whale led to the current chaos the UK faces. It’s one beyond fake news, and it’s nothing short of disgusting.

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