How remain failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign mentions that a lot of experts endorsed the economic arguments against Brexit:

In reality, the pro-EU arguments were supported by an overwhelming majority of economists, thinktanks, business leaders, diplomats and other professional bodies. This had been an instrumental part of the Stronger In strategy devised the previous summer. “The focus groups were telling us that people wanted the facts, but didn’t trust politicians to give them the facts,” said Straw. “But they did trust ‘experts’. So rather than smash facts over people’s heads, we thought it would be much better to use experts as conduits.”

The comments section mention that some celebrities also opposed Brexit.

Brexit is a clear message to big business: you refused to change your ways and now you'll pay the price implies that big business too opposed Brexit.

The then leaders of the two major parties at the time (Cameron and Corbyn) opposed Brexit.

And yet Brexit won, albeit by a narrow margin. Who was supporting Brexit, other than a former mayor (Boris Johnson) and the leader of a fairly small and disliked party (Nigel Farage)?


2 Answers 2


This is something that will be discussed for many years to come, don't expect a clear answer.

The main 'outside actors' who aren't politicians would be the media, particularly the columnists of The Sun and Daily Mail newspapers as they have less strict requirements on impartiality and the same circulation as the next eight national newspapers combined (not all of which were pro-remain).

Michael Gove of Vote Leave rightly noted, "I think people in this country have had enough of experts." in a Telegraph interview and that pretty much summed up the whole situation.

No matter how many facts, experts, business leaders or rebuttal of the Vote Leave claims which offered the moon on a stick and have since turned out to be mostly improbable, impossible, or outright untrue - it was still enough to get them 'over the line' because ultimately people just didn't know which experts to believe. Many didn't want to see the evidence that backed it up just dismissing it as fear-mongering, lacked the confidence to look deeper, or felt that it was too complicated for them.

There were some others too, some high-profile donors to the campaigns like Arron Banks who was able to bankroll mailings etc.

There is also a non-acting figure, poverty, when people are relatively poor compared to those around them - rather than those who have no access to food, clean water, electricity, basic shelter, or sewerage, and may have left their bombed house with what they can carry to seek refuge in another country. Then anything that sounds or promises to be different is appealing, even if every rational analysis shows it to be a mirage.

Also one should never underestimate the will of the people to give the sitting government a sound kicking, as such David Cameron could be argued as a boost to the Leave campaign. Conversely notable by his apparent absence or lack of media attention was the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.


"Who was supporting Brexit, other than a former mayor (Boris Johnson) and the leader of a fairly small and disliked party (Nigel Farage)?"

I would like to pick up on the final words of your question referring to the apparent paradox between UKIP being a "fairly small and disliked party", and the fact that its signature policy, "Brexit", won the referendum.

UKIP is indeed disliked by many - it is political Marmite - but substantial numbers must have liked something about it. According to the Wikipedia page on the UK general election of 2015, UKIP ranked third in that election in terms of numbers of votes received. The Conservatives got 11.3 million, Labour 9.3 million and UKIP 3.9 million. Presumably that "something" that attracted the 3.9 million was UKIP's main and only significant policy offering, rather than love for a newish party that had managed to be notably fractious in its short history.

UKIP got a respectable share of the General Election vote despite two factors that worked against it:

  • the first factor was that it was obvious that in the UK's First Past The Post electoral system UKIP's geographically dispersed support would not translate into Parliamentary seats. As things turned out the divergence between number of votes cast and number of seats won was extreme: UKIP's 3.9 million votes resulted in just one seat while the Liberal Democrats got 8 seats on a vote of 2.4 million and the Scottish National Party got 56 seats on a vote of 1.5 million.

  • the second factor was that UKIP was (and may still be) seen as a single-issue party rather than a plausible government in waiting. Many voters in the GE might well have agreed with UKIP's desire to leave the EU, but they ranked that issue low on their list of priorities. In a general election most voters would decide who to vote for on political, economic or personal criteria unrelated to the question of EU membership.

When it came to the referendum neither of these suppressing factors mattered. Every vote counted equally. The single issue that was UKIP's raison d'être was the only question on the ballot.

According to the polling organisation YouGov, 95% of those who voted UKIP in 2015 voted Leave in the referendum. So apart from the mischievous 5% of UKIP Remainers, that chunk of vote was delivered straight to Leave. I don't have time at the moment to look at the other parties but I will just quote the same piece from YouGov (emphasis added):

The vote on Britain's membership of the European Union cut across party lines, with significant division within Britain's main political parties. Conservatives voted to Leave, 61% to 39%. Labour voters (65%) and Liberal Democrats (68%) largely voted for Remain but significant minorities went for Leave. Only UKIP, where 95% voted for Leave, and the Greens, where 80% voted for Remain, avoided significant internal divisions on the vote.

To sum up, in addition to practically all UKIP voters, a majority of Conservative voters disagreed with their party's Remain stance, as did large minorities of Labour and, surprisingly, Liberal Democrats. Lord Ashcroft's polling company gives similar results and adds that 36% of SNP voters disagreed with the stance of their party and of Scotland as a whole in favour of Remain.

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