How Press Propaganda Paved the Way to Brexit

© SpringerBy Francis Rawlinson
5th February 2020
£22.99 | $29.99 | 25,99 € 
Softcover | 978-3-030-27764-2

“This book makes an important argument, not about the way in which the UK public was misled during the EU referendum, but about the way they had been served distortion for decades. What had been condoned as irrelevant tabloid cheekiness helped 
re-frame the real world.” 
— Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History, University of Westminster, and Official Historian of the BBC

For more than 20 years British right-wing newspapers have shaped public opinion about the European Union. Long before the Brexit vote, misinformation and propaganda spread by slanted print media primed Britain for the divisive decision to leave the EU.

In his book, former EU Commission official Francis Rawlinson lays bare the history behind Britain’s rocky relationship with the EU, specifically through the lens of the British press. Eurosceptic narratives have been circulated by the Telegraph, Mail, Sun, and Express for decades and proved instrumental in tipping the fine balance in favour of Brexit. With hard facts, Rawlinson debunks the core myths underpinning Brexit including the EU’s undemocratic nature, the wholesale loss of sovereignty to it and of control over immigration, and an extortionate membership fee. 

But right-wing newspapers were not alone. Rawlinson shows that they were the mouthpieces of a wider Brexit movement that gradually united a large section of the British political establishment and the British people against Europe. TV and radio were unwitting players in the propaganda war. By re-broadcasting the majority Brexit-supporting print media’s headlines as part of their remit to maintain balance, they amplified the Brexit message. Even the BBC fell into this trap, Rawlinson suggests, for fear of jeopardizing its funding. 

“The concrete benefits of cooperating as a member of the EU were played down, and the downsides in terms of loss of freedom to pursue Britain’s own interests, and in the shape of overregulation and red tape, were exaggerated to make leaving seem like an obvious choice, a ‘no-brainer.’ This was always a false choice but its simplistic populist message was sold to voters in the EU referendum campaign,” says Rawlinson.

However, Rawlinson points out that it’s not all doom and gloom, and the unfolding consequences of this long-waged propaganda war serve to highlight the importance of a truthful and responsible press. This book helps us understand the power of deception and misinformation in swaying public opinion towards a questionable goal, and shines a light on the crucial role the press should play in democracy.


Francis Rawlinson is a former EU Commission official. He is also Fellow of Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, where he was a professor for EU studies from 2011 to 2017. He has written on EU competition law, state aid control, the euro and regional development.

For more information or to get in touch with the author please contact:
Rebecca Krahenbuhl – Communications Manager, Palgrave Macmillan
rebecca.krahenbuhl@palgrave.com, +44 020 7014 6634