Insights from the heart of the ‘Neverendum’
In 1975 the United Kingdom held a referendum on its continued membership of the European Economic Area – a body that would become the European Union. But the UK’s relationship with the EU was seldom an easy one and, in an era of austerity and increased migration, and in a time of political turmoil, the popularity of Brussels had hit a low point by late 2015.
40 years after that first vote, and with a surprise majority in a general election, David Cameron’s manifesto commitment to a further ‘in-out’ referendum became a reality in early 2016 – and the fight to keep in the UK in the EU began.
The backing of the Government, most of the Cabinet, big business, small business, entrepreneurs, trade unions, charities, celebrities and every major international body should – in conventional wisdom – have guaranteed success for the Remain campaign. And, with predictions that ‘Remain’ would secure a slim majority with a voter turnout of over 60%, the 72% actual turnout should have wiped away any possibility of a win for Vote Leave.
But, to the surprise of everyone on both sides of the debate, the UK did vote to leave the EU on June 23rd by a majority of almost 1.3 million votes.
In perhaps the most heated, and divisive, political campaign in recent times – and one in which a popular MP was murdered exactly a week before the vote – the UK’s 2016 EU Referendum Campaign, and its surprise result, offers valuable insights and lessons for campaigns all over the world.
Gabe left behind a 15-year career in Corporate Communications to join Britain Stronger in Europe – the official ‘Remain’ campaign in the UK’s EU referendum - as its Director of External Relations.
Working with a team in the campaign, and new colleagues from Downing Street, Gabe led the strategy to generate third party support for ‘Remain’ from business, politicians, trade unions, charities, public figures, and celebrities.
He now runs a communications and engagement consultancy, helping organisations to understand and influence the people who matter to them most.