Category Archives: UK European Union Referendum

Should MPs Vote To Stop Article 50?

29 Reasons Why MPs Should Vote Against Article 50

The UK is clearly a divided nation as shown by the EU referendum result. However, will ploughing on regardless of the cost of Brexit really heal the rift? I don’t think so. No, to bring people together we need a genuine and open discussion to understand if leaving the EU is a reasonable and sustainable solution to people’s concerns.

For this reason I have outlined below 29 reasons why MPs should vote to block Article 50.

  1. Less than 40% of the electorate voted in favour of leaving the EU. 
  • 52% of people who voted chose to leave the EU, but given a turnout of 72% this means that only 37% of the total electorate actually voted in favour of leaving the EU. This figure would be even lower if you allow for the fact that adults aged between 16 and 17 were not allowed to vote and around a million ex-pats living in another member state for more than 15 years were also excluded from the vote.
  • Indeed, only 26% of the UK population voted to leave the  EU. To call this the “will of the people” is a complete fallacy and is a dangerous use of a referendum result. John Stewart Mill, an English philosopher, political economist and civil servant argued in 1859 that following the “will of the people” could be an “abuse power”.

Quote from John Stewart Mill about danger of following the will of the people

  1. Theresa May attempted to ignore Parliamentary sovereignty.
  • A British PM cannot trigger a General Election without the approval of 66% of all MPs and so why should Theresa May be allowed to use a small majority in a referendum to force the UK to leave the EU? May tried to argue that she alone could trigger Article 50 despite the Conservative Government in 2010 confirming that referendum cannot be binding due to the sovereignty of parliament.
  • What May attempted to do was unconstitutional and would have reduced the power of Parliament. Fortunately the Supreme Court has confirmed the power of Parliament and May will now have to get a bill through Parliament.
  1. The referendum was not binding and requires Parliament’s consent to proceed. Why are MPs ignoring the nature of the referendum Bill?
  • The Government had the opportunity to make the referendum binding by requiring a super majority, 2:1 in favour and a 70% turnout, but instead asked Parliament for an advisory referendum. The Government  rejected more than one attempt to introduce clauses that would have made the result binding.  An advisory referendum is supposed to be just that because it would be reckless to base a major constitutional change on a simple majority without Parliament first debating it and voting on such a change.

Image of the EU Referendum Bill 2015-16

4. A majority of MPs wanted the UK to remain in the EU. 

  • Before the referendum  74% of the UK’s 650 MPs were in favour of remaining in the European Union. Now they have the opportunity to vote on Article 50  MPs should stand up for their principles and do what is best for the UK. They should vote against Article 50. Even Theresa May made this statement about supporting the Remain campaign on the Andrew Marr show. Why is she now following a slim majority to ignore her own opinion that the UK would be better to remain in the EU?

Theresa May explaining why UK should remain in the EU on Andrew Marr show

  • Winston Churchill famously said the first duty of a MP is to do what he thinks is best for the country and secondly to represent his constituents.

Image of what Winston Churchill said about the role of a MP

5. The Leave Campaign had no plan or costings for leaving the EU.

  • If someone proposes a major constitutional change the least you would expect is a carefully thought out implementation plan, including estimates of the costs and benefits of the change. Any proposal with so little effort put into the planning and implementation stage of the process deserves no respect and should not be taken forward until a credible plan is presented and put to Parliament.

Brexit is costing £461m a week

6. People can change their minds.

  • It is over 6 months since the referendum and only now do people know that the plan is to leave the single market and probably the customers union. Given the potential impact of such changes on the economy and people’s lives it is only reasonable to give the electorate a second opportunity to vote on the full details of the plan when it has been finalised.
  • A recent YouGov survey found that 54% of Leave voters are not prepared for their family finances to be affected by Theresa May prioritising immigration over the economy.  Only 11% of people who supported Brexit said they would be prepared to be more than £100 a month worse off to get greater control over immigration.


7. The electorate were lied to about many of the potential benefits of leaving the EU.

  • Although misinformation was a characteristic of both sides of the argument, the Leave campaign made a number of claims (e.g. £350m a week to go to the NHS and Turkey about to join the EU) that have proved to be totally inaccurate and untrue. For a start the Office for Budget Responsibility now estimates that the UK will only save £250m a week by leaving the EU and that most of the cost savings will be wiped out for a number of years due to the high cost of leaving the EU.
  • The EU is potentially asking for between €60bn to €100bn cover existing commitments. People cannot be expected to have an informed opinion on leaving the EU when much of the information about leaving the EU was false.


Leave campaign claim that Turkey was about to join the EU

8. Theresa May’s Government has no mandate for hard Brexit.

  • The referendum did not specify that the UK would leave either the Single Market or the Customs Union. The ballot paper simply asked if voters wanted to remain or leave the European Union. There was no indication about the nature of any withdrawal from the EU.

9. Brexit could result in the break-up of the UK.

  • Following Theresa May’s speech of 17th January, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of SNP, has indicated that a second Scottish independence referendum is almost inevitable. Scotland voted strongly in favour of remaining in the EU (62% to 38%), and the Scottish Government want to remain in the single market. A hard Brexit could you also increase pressure for the unification of Ireland as Northern Ireland also voted in favour of staying in the EU and is the only part of the UK to have a land border with another EU country.


10. Theresa May’s plan is not credible or logistically possible.

  • May’s plan is to leave the single market and the full customs union and negotiate a new “frictionless” trade agreement through “associate membership” of the customs union without having to submit to the regulations of the customs union. All of this is to be completed within 2 years.
  • Why would other members of the customs union approve an agreement that allows the UK to ignore existing regulations and rules? For free trade to happen counties must collaborate to ensure compatibility between national legal systems, standardising their rules and regulations to bring down trade barriers. The UK doesn’t want to abide by the rules of the customs union and so why would other members agree to a free trade agreement?
  • May wants to complete a new deal within 2 years? It took the EU seven years to agree a trade agreement with Canada. Indeed,  Michael Fuchs,  a senior adviser to Germany’s Angela Merkel has told reporters that May’s Brexit plan is impossible as she does not appear to want to give up anything to achieve her aims.


11. Taking the UK out of the single market could seriously damage the economy.

  • May wants to take the UK out of a market over 500 million people with no guarantee that we can obtain “frictionless” access to the single market after we leave the EU. This means that the City of London would almost inevitably lose its European passport allowing free trade in financial services throughout the single market.
  • This is a highly risky, if not, reckless strategy which runs contrary to the Conservative Party’s own policy of being the party of “economic competency”. The City is also one of the biggest contributors to corporation tax in the UK and if tax receipts decline this could force the Government to increase income tax whether it likes it or not.

12. May considers “no deal is better than a bad deal” with EU.

  • No country wants a bad deal, but no deal is the worst scenario for all countries and could be very damaging for the UK economy. Before it joined the EU the UK tried to get approval for a free trade agreement with the emerging EU and France blocked it. Relying on all 27 countries to approve a new trade agreement again seems a very risky approach to trading with EU countries.

13. The EU already has many trade agreements with other nations which the UK would exclude itself from if it leaves the EU.

  • The EU has just completed a free trade agreement with Canada and has many multilateral and bilateral trade deals, and includes the USA as a major trading partner. The EU is currently in discussions with Japan about a free trade deal. As 44% of the UK’s exports go to the EU why would we want to risk jeopardising this trade?

14. We risk losing sovereignty of Gibraltar and 30,000 loyal subjects.

  • As all 27 EU states have to agree to any new trade agreement with the EU it is highly likely that Spain will use this as an opportunity to push for joint sovereignty of Gibraltar. Spain only opened its border with Gibraltar because it wanted to join the EU and now will have the opportunity to make life even more difficult for the people of Gibraltar if the UK leaves the EU.

Image of Gibraltar

15. London risks losing its status as Europe’s leading financial hub and a centre of creativity in the arts and sciences.

  • Many multinational banks have already announced they are planning on moving thousands of jobs from London to other European financial centres in response to Brexit. Losing the European financial passport will be a major blow to London’s status as a financial hub. Further, London has successfully attracted many talented people from the rest of Europe and other countries due to its ethnic and cultural diversity. This has helped establish London as a centre of creative and high-tech science. Given the perception of Brexit from outside the UK and proposed new immigration controls this status is in serious risk of being undermined.

16. Leaving the EU is likely to undermine the UK’s world-leading position in science and innovation.

  • The EU has greatly assisted UK science and innovation as freedom of movement of expertise and EU science funding has supported important complex international research and development programmes. This has been beneficial for education, training, innovation and the economy overall. Leaving the EU will prevent collaboration, remove funding opportunities and hinder attracting talent from other EU countries.

17. Many UK industries are reliant on EU regulatory bodies to trade in both the UK and EU.

  • The UK does not have the resources or money to create numerous regulators to replace existing EU regulatory bodies within two years. EU pharmaceutical companies for instance have to submit results to the European Medical Agency (EMA), which is currently based in London. Otherwise companies cannot proceed with testing and production. Of course the EMA will have to move to another EU country, which will result in job losses in the UK. However, even if we establish our own agency, UK companies may still have to submit results to the EMA if they wish to have continued access to EU markets.
  • It is possible that the UK could petition Europe to allow EU regulators to continue to regulate UK companies but this would conflict with May’s plan to leave the single market. It would also give the EU another bargaining counter in negotiations. So we are left with potentially having to replicate EU regulatory agencies which will add significantly to the cost of leaving the EU.

18. UK citizens would lose the automatic right to work and live in other EU countries.

  • 1.2 million British born people currently live in another EU country and an estimated 800,000 are workers and their dependants.  Currently people in the UK can work and live in any other EU country without having to apply for approval from the other member state.
  • This is likely to end if we leave the single market and customs union as the UK Government wants to prevent EU nationals coming to the UK without first being granted permission. Apart from the loss of a right that many of us have benefited from over the years this will increase red-tape and make it more difficult to recruit skilled staff from other EU countries. Why would such staff come to the UK when they can go to an EU member state without any need to complete paperwork?

19. It is not clear if Article 50 is reversible.

  • As no country has ever triggered Article 50 it is not known if at the end of negotiations it is possible to reverse our decision and to remain a member of the EU. It is perfectly possible that after two years of negotiating the UK may not have a plan that is acceptable to the electorate. What if this happens and we are forced to leave the EU because Article 50 is not reversible?

20. UK citizens may lose the right to free medical care when travelling in the EU. 

  • Currently UK citizens have access to free or subsidised medical care when travelling in the EU via the EHIC card. However, this will now be part of the Brexit negotiations. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, admitted during evidence to a Commons committee he could give no guarantees that the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will survive withdrawal from the EU. Removing access to the EHIC card would have serious financial implications for UK citizens travelling in the EU, especially if they don’t have travel insurance.

21. UK universities will lose tens of millions of pounds in fees from EU students deciding to study elsewhere. 

  • EU applications for UK universities have declined by 7% according to figures provided to a select committee of MPs. It is the first drop in applications from EU students to study in the UK for almost a decade and is likely to have been influenced by the Brexit decision. EU students have been an important source of growth for UK universities because the number of 18-year-olds in the UK are declining.  Applications from EU students rose by 5.9% between 2015 and 2016 and 7.4% the year before.

22. Producing a White Paper after a bill has been passed is contrary to our normal constitutional process. 

  • A White Paper normally proceeds a bill to allow MPs to properly debate the full details of any proposals to be enshrined in law.  Producing a White Paper after the Article 50 Bill has been voted through Parliament will prevent MPs from shaping the Article 50 legislation and  diminishes the power of Parliament.

“Producing a White Paper AFTER legislation: sheer trickery: MPs should absolutely not stand for it. Redouble MP lobbying efforts accordingly.” – A C Grayling

23. Allowing just 5 days for MPs to debate the Bill for triggering Article 50  shows “contempt” for Parliament. 

  • The Government’s  Bill to trigger Article 50 is only 8 lines long, composes of 137 words and MPs are being given just five days to debate it. This has angered many Labour MPs in particular as they believe it shows “contempt” for Parliament. This appears to contradict the leave campaign’s promise to bring back parliamentary sovereignty.
Image of Article 50 Bill
Image Source:

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats called the Bill an “affront to parliamentary sovereignty and democracy”.

“Take back control was a mantra of the leave campaign, but this government’s extreme reluctance to involve parliament in this process has instead been an affront to parliamentary sovereignty and democracy.” Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader.

  • In the explanatory notes it indicates that the Bill is not expected to have any financial implications. This is completely untrue as the Government themselves have estimated that the cost to the UK once we leave the EU will be around £120bn.

24. The NHS is heavily reliant on staff coming from other EU countries.

Statistics from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that there has been a 90% fall in the number of nurses coming to the UK since the Brexit vote.  The figures relate to the number of nurses  and midwives from other EU countries registering to work in the UK. Only 101 nurses and midwives from other EU countries registered to work here in December 2016 compared to 1,304 in July, the month immediately after the referendum.

There has also been a large rise in the number of EU nurses who have decided to stop working in the UK. In December 318 nurses from other EU countries decided to leave the NMC’s register, almost twice the 177 who did so in June, the month the referendum took place.

25. Given that Jeremy Corbyn consistently defied the Party line as a backbencher why should Labour MPs take any notice of the three-line whip?

  • In his 32 year career as an MP Jeremy Corbyn  defied the party whip over 500 times. Even David Cameron never managed to vote against the Labour as many times as Corbyn has.  Labour MPs should therefore not feel obliged to  vote as requested by their leader and should instead vote for what is best for the country and block Article 50.

26.  As part of Brexit the UK is to leave Euratom which is likely to delay the building of new nuclear power stations and reduce the competitiveness of the UK in this sector. 

  • The explanatory notes for the Brexit Bill revealed that the UK will also leave Euratom, which promotes research into nuclear power and uniform safety standards.
  • Referring to Hinkley and other nuclear projects, Dr Paul Dorfman of the Energy Institute at University College London said:

 “The UK nuclear industry is critically dependent on European goods and services in the nuclear supply chain and their specialist nuclear skills. Leaving Euratom will inevitably increase nuclear costs and will mean further delays.


27. Brexit MPs don’t understand how the EU works or the complexity of leaving the EU.

  • After the referendum Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary, said that the UK would negotiate many new trade deals for when we leave the EU. However, EU regulations prohibit member countries from negotiating trade deals with other countries while the nation is still a member.
  • Theresa May also thinks that the UK can negotiate a free trade agreement with the customs union without having to comply with their regulations. Michael Fuchs, an adviser to  Angela Merkel has said this is no possible as “you can’t eat a cake without paying for it”.
  • On the 27th January Mr Iain Duncan Smith issued a statement criticising the Supreme Court’s judgement on Brexit. A leading barrister analysed the statement and concluded it was inaccurate and inappropriate given the British constitution. This raises the question of how valid other statements Iain Duncan Smith has made during and since the Brexit campaign. To conduct their jobs competently MPs should have a good working knowledge on such matters.

28.  “The election of Trump has transformed Brexit from a risky decision into a straightforward disaster.”

Donald Trump is a destabilising influence on the world economic and political landscape. In an article for the Financial Times Gideon Rachman argues that Trump is a disaster for Brexit because the UK can no longer rely on the US for support because Trump’s vision and policies are at odds with Theresa May’s strategy and values.

Donald Trump is  the most protectionist US president since the 1930s and any trade deal would probably require major concessions on the NHS and agriculture. This is the opposite of May’s vision of . “global Britain” being a champion of free trade.  May is also a firm supporter of NATO and the UN whilst Trump as twice referred to NATO as obsolete and wants to drastically cut funding for the UN. Trump would also like to see the break-up of the EU whilst May wants to see the EU prosper as it is our biggest trading partner.

Given our very different values and outlook on the world this is not the time to break free from the EU. We should be seeking stability within the EU rather than risking an uncertain future with a closer relationship with the US.

29. Hate crime has soared since the Brexit vote.

According to official Home Office figures there was a 41% increase in racially or religiously aggravated crimes recorded in July 2016 compared to the same month the year before.


Brexit is making the UK poorer, smaller, more inward looking, is reducing diversity, less tolerant and will create unnecessary barriers to both trade and travel. It is also making our Government more selfish, our opposition irrelevant and lowering our status in the world.

Thank you for reading my post and if you believe in keeping the UK in the European Union please share this using the social media icons below.


Related posts:

Referendum – Are referendum a device of dictators and demagogues? 

Brexit – The psychology of Brexit – why emotions won over logic?

Marketing – 7 marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

  • About the author:  Neal Cole is a digital marketer who has worked in a number of European cities including Paris and London, and also in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar.   He is the founder of Conversion Uplift Ltd which provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and

How Does The Backfire Effect Shape Beliefs?

Why do facts not change opinions?

There is a general misconception that by presenting facts and figures that contradict a person’s existing beliefs we can change their opinion. In reality the backfire effect suggests it can have the opposite effect.

Hilary Clinton certainly tried to use facts and figures in the 2016 US presidential election. However,  she failed to win enough votes in the states where it mattered despite Donald Trump running with much more emotive and populist agenda.  Why does this happen and how does fake news (or “alternative  facts” as Kellyanne Conway refers to them) influence our existing beliefs?

The backfire effect is a psychological bias which is a tendency for people to reject evidence that contradicts deeply held beliefs. As a result our opinions become even more entrenched than before we received the new information.

This may explain why the attacks on Trump’s suitability to become US president during the 2016 campaign had no impact on his popularity among his core supporters. They rejected the information as unreliable.

What causes the backfire effect?

The experience of receiving evidence that is inconsistent with our beliefs causes cognitive dissonance. This makes us feel very uncomfortable and as a defence mechanism our brain creates new memories and neural connections that further strengthen existing beliefs to dismiss the new information and eliminate cognitive dissonance. Over time we also become less sceptical of those ideas that support our beliefs which are often the very same concepts that may be incorrect.


In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler (PDF), two leading researchers of political science, created fake newspaper articles on politically sensitive issues. They were written in a way that would support a widespread misconception about a specific idea in US politics.

Once a person had read the fake article they were given an authentic article which outlined a more accurate view of the story. One fake article for instance indicated that the US had found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. The genuine article clearly stated that the US never found such weapons in Iraq.

Participants who had been opposed to the war or who held strong liberal attitudes tended to disagree with the fake story and accepted the second article. However, those who supported the war and held more conservative beliefs tended to accept the accuracy of the fake article and strongly disagreed with the second post. Further, after reading the authentic article which stated there we no WMDs ever found, conservative leaning participants indicated that they were even more certain than before that Iraq had held WMDs.

Did fake news help Trump?

Emotional factors played a big part in the outcome of the US presidential election.

Research by Ipsos suggests the backfire effect is especially problematic when fake or incorrect news is circulated in the public domain. The danger here is our tendency to be more likely to accept something as true the more times we are exposed to the same information (see Availability Cascade).

During the 2016 US election fake news stories circulated on Facebook and other social media platforms. The Ipsos survey found that fake news headlines were accepted as true by those who were exposed to them around 75% of the time.

Further, people who gave Facebook as their major news source were more likely to perceive fake news headlines as genuine stories compared to those who were less reliant on the social media platform.  This dispels the myth that people can tell what is genuine information on Facebook.

“The 2016 election may mark the point in modern political history when information and disinformation became a dominant electoral currency,” – Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs

Republican leaning voters were more likely than Democrats to accept fake news as being accurate (84% compared to 71%). Similarly Clinton voters were less likely than Trump voters to perceive fake news as being true (58% compared to 86% for Trump voters).

This is probably because most top-performing  fake headlines during the campaign were pro-Trump or critical of Clinton. This would support the backfire effect being triggered by the fake news stories. It is also worrying that a majority of Clinton voters who saw the fake news stories considered them to be very or somewhat accurate. The backfire effect appears to benefit those organisations and people who are most willing to communicate inaccurate and false information.

Alternative Facts:

Sean Spicer’s accusation of “deliberately false reporting” by journalists of the numbers attending Trump’s inauguration suggests that Trump intends to try to put doubt in the minds of his supporters about the accuracy of media reports. “Alternative facts” as Kellyanne Conway refers to them are lies.

However,  the backfire effect means this can be a  very effective strategy for making existing beliefs even stronger among those who support the political party   concerned. Fake news can also put a seed of doubt into the minds of others who have no political allegiance.

Trump has not changed his style of leadership since he became President. He relies on creating social media storms to get his points across and is unlikely to want to lose this weapon going forward. He has changed the rules of politics and his opponents need to realise this and begin to adjust their approach accordingly. That should’t mean using fake news, but they should simply their messaging and speak directly to people about their hopes and concerns.

Journalists also need to be careful not to allow President Trump to use such media storms to obscure other more important news. Over the weekend following the inauguration so much attention was given to the disputed numbers  relatively little time was given to Trump signing an Executive Order to begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act.  This will potentially remove medical care for around 1.8 million US citizens. No credible plans are in place to provide these people with replacement cover to a comparable level.

Threat to fair elections:

One of the most worrying lies that Donald Trump has consistently promoted is that there were between 2 to 3 million votes illegally cast during the 2016 presidential election. There is no evidence that there was wide-spread voting fraud at polling stations. Most fraud tends to be carried out with postal voting.

However, Trump’s aim may be to simply make it more difficult for people to vote by increasing the onus on voters to prove their identity. The evidence suggests that these kinds of measures often reduce the likelihood of people from the ethnic minorities to cast their vote. As Trump lacks appeal to many in the ethnic minority community this may be a simple ploy to improve his chances of being re-elected for a second term.

 Did fake news influence Brexit?

Image of the UK Leave campaign website

The Leave campaign in the EU referendum  also used the backfire effect to their advantage.  According to a source at the BBC the Leave campaign in particular tended to submit statement of debatable accuracy either very late of very early in the day in order to get them communicated in morning new programmes. They understood though that amendments or having to retract inaccurate stories would only occur later in the day and by then the content was already circulating and had done its job.


The backfire effect demonstrates how the human brain instinctively and unconsciously protects your beliefs from harm when confronted with information that is inconsistent with those same beliefs. It does this by making those beliefs even stronger and so more resistant to change.

The danger here is that fake news stories will inevitably lead to  beliefs that don’t stand up to rational scrutiny becoming more entrenched. This could result in even more polarised positions for the two camps in American politics.  Whether fake new stories were the difference between Trump  winning or losing the US election is impossible to know. However, as most fake news was supportive of Trump it is possible that it had an insidious influence.

Marketing Implications:

Clinton should have avoided attacking Trump on a personal level as this just reinforced his supporter’s beliefs about both candidates.  The Democrats would have been better to focus on how they could persuade the undecided voters and engage Clinton’s own supporters.

The backfire effects suggests that we should not try changing people’s deeply held beliefs as they won’t respond to rational argument. For marketers this suggests changing habits (e.g. a free trial) or using an emotional trigger to engage competitor’s customers.

However, the backfire effect indicates that marketers should concentrate on trying to win over people who don’t have strong beliefs that run counter to their argument. This means running a positive campaign that projects both emotional and rational benefits. Inspire people rather than attacking your competitors as the latter is likely to be counterproductive.

Thank you for reading my post and if you found it useful please share using the social media icons on the page.


Related posts:

EU Referendum – Why emotions won over logic?

Brexit campaign – 7 marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

Referendum – Are referendum a device of dictators and demagogues? 

US opinion polls – Why did the polls get it wrong again?

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, check out the Conversion Uplift  Facebook page or connect on LinkedIn.

7 Marketing Lessons From The Brexit Campaigns

The UK’s EU referendum result surprised many people outside the UK. But a review of the strategies used by the campaigns  gives some clear reasons for the outcome and provides some important lessons for marketers.  The Remain campaign was expected to win partly because of the uncertainty that leaving the UK would create. The fact that they lost suggests that something major must have gone wrong with their campaign planning and implementation.

In another post I outlined some of the main  psychological reasons for Brexit, but here I outline specific lessons for marketing.


1.  Start by listening to people.


Listen to people

When a new brand begins to eat into an existing brand’s customer base this should be a wake-up call for the marketing team.  To survive in the long term all brands needs to be constantly listening to their customers to ensure they remain relevant and in touch with their target audience.

Marketers should explore what customers find appealing about the new brand and what is turning them off the leading brand. By listening to and observing customers we can pick up clues to why they are disillusioned with the established brand.  Further, by exploring what attracted existing customers to your brand you can identify what is most appealing about your value proposition. This can help you position your brand in the most effective way.

What went wrong?

The Remain campaign failed to understand that many people felt they had not benefited from globalisation and for this reason only saw the downside of the free movement of people within the EU. The Remain campaign’s tone towards controlling immigration was also cosmopolitan and elitist. This alienated voters worried about free movement of people within the EU as it appeared to dismiss their views as irrelevant. The Remain campaign also failed to offer hope that by staying within the EU the UK was more likely to be able change the principle of free movement of labour.

Strategy Lesson:

Engage in regular research and collaboration initiatives with customers and prospects to understand how they perceive the brand and your competitors. Brands have to evolve as customer behaviour and values change so as to remain relevant and responsive to customer needs.  If your strategy is not engaging customers it may be time to change your approach based upon evidence from customer research and feedback.

2. A clear and strong value proposition:


Image of lift model

A clear and compelling proposition is important for any brand. From day one the Leave message focused on “Take back control” which appeals to our desire for autonomy. According to the psychologist Daniel Pink autonomy is one of our three most important motivations in life, the others being mastery and purpose. Autonomy is something we naturally seek. It improves our lives because we feel happier when we are in control of our destiny.

Products are purchased for explicit goals, but brands need to appeal towards our implicit (psychological) goals to engage people at an emotional level. This is especially important where brands have very similar product features as it is the main way that they can differentiate themselves from each other. Understanding which of these core psychological goals motivates your customers is essential for effective brand positioning and campaign implementation.

Psychological Goals of Brands

6 main implicit psychologial goals
Source: Decode Marketing


What went wrong?

The “Britain stronger in Europe” message had potential to engage voters, but there was a lack of consistency of how it was explained and much of the time it was communicated in a negative and bullying fashion (e.g. if you vote leave economic growth will be lower). It was far too reliant on the rational economic argument and the psychological goals of security and discipline. Insufficient effort was made to communicate the many successes of the EU (around autonomy), or the positive benefits of security and discipline.

Strategy Lesson:

Ensure your proposition incorporates a number of relevant psychological goals to widen the appeal of your brand position. Avoid over reliance on the security of the status quo as people want to feel that they are making a positive choice and not being pressurised to avoid change. Purely negative campaigns can make people uncomfortable and motivate people to change for the sake of it.


3. Relevance of message:


Image of City of London view

The Leave campaign’s “Taking back control” message was also a more inclusive message as it appealed to a wider demographic audience. Everyone could relate to wanting  some autonomy in our relationships with other countries. In practical terms this may be somewhat of an illusion, but it captured the imagination of voters as it triggered a deep psychological desire for more control in our lives.

What went wrong?

The Remain campaign focused mainly on warnings about economic and political consequences of Brexit. For example the Treasury said that house prices might fall and mortgage rates would rise. But this had no relevance to people on the minimum wage with no chance of ever affording a house. People often don’t appreciate the links between macro-economic factors and their day-to-day existence, and so these messages didn’t resonate with voters.

The Brexit message also appealed to the desire to destabilise the status quo. This movement has resulted in the emergence of radical politicians like Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and Marine Le Pen in France.

Strategy Lesson:

Analyse the behaviour and needs of customers by relevant demographic and behavioural metrics to identify important customer segments. Create user personas to visualise and consider how relevant and motivating your messages are to different customer segments. Such analysis can help improve the targeting and relevance of your messages. Also talk to people about things they can directly relate to and avoid language that is not in every day use.

4. Tell a story:

Brexit told many stories (though many were probably half-truths), but these encouraged people to talk to each other about the EU referendum debate. Stories are powerful tools of persuasion as psychologists have found that when people listen to a narrative tale their brain is stimulated as if they are experiencing the same emotions as communicated in the story. Our social nature encourages us to pass on these narratives through word of mouth or online via social media.

What went wrong?

The Remain story was too rational, with too much emphasis on negative consequences of Brexit and few stories to inspire. This meant the status quo was not presented as a positive choice.

Strategy Lesson:

Encourage consumers to interact with each other my telling an interesting and emotionally engaging story.

5. Copy, Copy:


When we find ourselves in a situation of uncertainty, such as having to make a decision about something we little knowledge about, people naturally copy other people in the vicinity. Behaviour is often more powerful than word of mouth because it is more visible and people will copy the actions of people they respect or want to be associated with to reduce conflict and help establish stronger bonds in their social networks. Both campaigns tried to capitalise on this by getting the backing of celebrities and well known politicians.

Brexit undoubtedly benefited from strong leadership (i.e.Boris Johnson) and a consistent message delivered by almost everyone involved in the campaign.

What went wrong?

Remain suffered from being less cohesive as although it was backed by both of the main party leaders they held very different beliefs and values. For instance Jeremy Corbyn refused to share a platform with David Cameron and his support appeared half-hearted. David Cameron was also strongly associated with austerity which had significantly reduced funding in deprived areas since 2010.

Strategy Lesson:

Lead by example. If for instance your brand is positioned to be environmentally friendly make sure your internal policies and behaviour is consistent with this stance. If using celebrity endorsements ensure the person has wide appeal across your target audience.

6. Confirmation bias:


Image of mri-head scan

People have a tendency to search and consume new information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and ideas about a subject. We often filter out or dismiss information that contradicts existing opinions. Many people had negative opinions about the EU due to years of critical articles in the British media and so it was difficult for the Remain campaign to counter this perception.

One way that brands can counter confirmation bias is to communicate that you agree with one aspect of what your audience believes, but then introduce information that conflicts with this information. This creates cognitive dissonance which is where people feel uncomfortable about holding opinions that contradict each other. If you can then introduce an answer or solution to remove the cognitive dissonance people are more likely to agree with your suggestion than if you tried to raise it without going through this process.

For example the Leave campaign claimed that the UK could negotiate access to the EU single market and get agreement to control immigration. The Remain campaign could have agreed access to the single market would be achievable from outside the EU. However, they should have pointed out that to date the EU has not allowed any country access to the single market without also agreeing to free movement of EU nationals. Further, such a deal would not be sustainable for the EU as it would encourage other countries to leave the EU.

However, the Remain campaign could have offered a solution that by retaining membership of the EU the UK would aim to reform the EU from within. If David Cameron had listened to disenfranchised voters he might have put more effort into negotiating a review of freedom of movement within the EU on the basis of economic sustainability and security concerns.

What went wrong?

David Cameron’s re-negotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU failed to deliver any restrictions on free movement of people within the EU. Rather than reject what was on the table and revert to plan B (i.e. campaign to leave the EU) which would have put the EU under pressure to compromise he accepted their offer. This may have been a fatal error as it reduced trust in Cameron to be able to negotiate with the EU and gave no room for the Remain campaign to argue that they could influence immigration better from within the EU.

Further, journalist and author Tim Hartford argues that confirmation bias was so strong among the Remain team and its supporters that they ignored obvious warnings (e.g, opinion polls) that the Leave campaign were moving into a winning position. This was compounded by betting markets that also favoured a Remain win. However, betting markets are driven by the amount of money wagered on a particular outcome which normally benefits from the wisdom of crowds. But as most of the establishment and the City were in favour of remaining in the EU did their financial clout overly influence the betting markets? This might explain why the betting markets got the result so wrong.

Strategy Lesson:

When people have an existing belief about your brand that is preventing you from persuading them to buy tell them something they already agree with. Then use cognitive dissonance to make them feel uncomfortable. Once you have established a feeling of cognitive dissonance introduce a solution or answer to their problem which eliminates the discomfort.

Be careful not to compromise too easily on issues that your customers perceive as important (e.g. reliability or quality) as this can destroy trust in your ability to deliver on your promises.

We are all prone to confirmation bias and so it is important to be open-minded about data that contradicts our own views about a brand or market. Ensure where possible decisions are based upon reliable data and not just your own gut instincts.  Challenge data for potential bias or misinterpretation. This is especially important where different data sources produce conflicting results. Voice of Customer surveys for instance suffer from numerous flaws that can make them highly misleading if the data is taken at face value.

7. Post Brexit Regret:

Image of man with hands over face


A survey of voters after the Brexit result found that up to 7% now regretted voting to leave the EU and would vote Remain if they were given another opportunity. Customer can feel regret when they don’t think they have made the best decision. In the case of Brexit some voters believe they were lied to because the Leave campaign reneged on a number of the promises they had made during the campaign.

What went wrong:

Both sides confused voters with misleading claims, and counter-claims. This may have reduced trust in politicians and could have put-off some undecided voters from going to the polling stations.  If people find advice complex or difficult to understand this can often lead to procrastination or they will head for a competitor brand. The Leave campaign in particular made a number of very high profile promises that turned out to be inaccurate and undeliverable.

Strategy Lesson:

Ensure you are confident that you can deliver on any promises you make during a marketing campaign. Post-purchase dissatisfaction due to broken promises is likely to result in cancellations or returns and will destroy customer confidence and trust in your brand. As Dave Trott points out:

“The product creates the experience.

The experience creates the reputation.

The reputation creates the brand.”

Dave Trott, One Plus One Equals Three

Thank you for reading my post. I believe there are some important, but simple lessons to learn from the Brexit ferendum result. The main lesson is to main sure you have a clear and compelling value proposition and that you understand the different needs of individual customer segments.

If you found this post useful please share using the social media icons.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Referendum a “Device of Dictators and Demagogues”?

The will of the people?

The UK European referendum result  has huge implications for the economic, social and political landscape of the country and has shown how divided the country is towards the EU. Despite a small majority (52%) being in favour of leaving the EU most politicians claim it was a “clear result” and frequently state that it is the “will of the people” to trigger Article 50 and exit the EU.

This is inconsistent with the Government’s own position stated in 2010 that referendum “cannot be legally binding” due to the sovereignty of Parliament.   The Government had the opportunity to make the referendum binding by requiring a super majority (2:1 in favour and a 70% turnout), but instead asked Parliament for an advisory referendum.

The Government rejected more than one attempt to introduce clauses that would have made the result binding.  An advisory referendum is designed not to be binding. It would seem inappropriate to base a major constitutional change on a simple majority without Parliament first debating it and voting on such a change. As the turnout of the referendum was 70% this means the Government is making a decision based upon only 37% of the total electorate being in favour of leaving the EU. This is not the “will of the people”, but the preference of a minority.

But are referendum really an appropriate way of making such an important decision that could have long-lasting consequences for the country’s economy and our dealings with Europe and the rest of the world?  Fore example  Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) estimate (November 2016)  that  around half of the UK’s budget deficit (i.e. £58.7bn)  over the next 5 years will be the result of Brexit. That’s around £226 million a week which will wipe out most of the estimated £250m net-saving of not paying into the EU (not £350m as mentioned by the leave campaign).

The history of referendum!

In March 1975 Margaret Thatcher described referendum as “a device of dictators and demagogues”.  Thatcher was quoting Clement Attlee who noticed that Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon III used referendum to legitimise decisions they had made. If we just look at referendum before Wordl War II we can see how Mussolini and Hitler used them to their advantage.

  • March 1929 – Italy approves single-party list for Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in referendum.
  • July 1933 –  Hitler grants himself the power to hold referendums.
  • November 1933 – Germans vote to leave the League of Nations in referendum.
  • March 1934 – Italians confirm approval of single-party list for Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in referendum.
  • August 1934 –  Germans approve combining posts of Chancellor & President in referendum.
  • March 1936 – Germany approve single-party rule & occupation of Rhineland in referendum.
  • April 1938 – Germans approve single list of Nazi candidates for Reichstag & Anschluss with Austria in referendum.

More recently in 2014 Russia used a referendum to legitimise the annexation of Crimea. The question the referendum asked the people of Crimea was if they wanted to join Russia as a federal subject, or to restore the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. As the 1992 constitution provided for increased control to the Crimean parliament, including full sovereign powers to agree relations with other states, both choices available in the referendum would probably have resulted in separation from Ukraine.  The status quo was not an option on the ballot paper.

Image of Vladimir Putin

Referendum, plebiscites or polls are positioned as allowing the people to directly express their democratic will on a specific issue, but are they not a sign of a weak leader or a way for the elite to legitimise a policy they support? In the case of David Cameron there was no need to have a referendum, he only decided to hold one to resolve an internal party dispute. It wasn’t for the national interest. It’s quite remarkable that Cameron wasn’t taken to task over this blunder in the House of Commons, though this might partly be due to the implosion of the Labour opposition.

So why are referendum flawed?

Single question! The most obvious one is that they require a complex, and often emotionally charged issue, to be reduced to a simplistic yes/no question.  When considering a relationship the UK has been in for over 40 years a simple yes/no or “remain/leave” question raises many complex and inter-connected questions that even professional politicians could not fully answer during the campaign.

Statistics and damn lies! There is a danger that the electorate can be mislaid by untruths and promises that are not deliverable. Certainly many newspaper stories have been written criticising the EU over the years. Boris Johnson confessed to a fellow journalist that when he was the EU correspondent at The Telegraph he made up many of his articles. This had an explosive affect on the Tory party, but also on the type of stories other newspapers wanted to publish about the EU.

The leave campaign leaders quickly distanced themselves from the main promises they made during the lead up to the vote because they were either inaccurate or down right lies.  It shouldn’t be a surprise then that Boris Johnson decided not to stand for election as party leader or that the Leave campaign didn’t have a plan for how the UK would leave the EU.

Knowledge of issues! Ignoring the half-truths circulated about the EU the choice for the electorate was still daunting. The complexity of the decision meant that most people were ill-equipped to understand  the issues or the potential implications of the choice they had to make. Jason Brennan, an expert and author of the ethics of voting at Georgetown University pointed out:

“To have even a rudimentary sense of the pros and cons of Brexit, one would need to know about the economics and sociology of trade and immigration, the politics of centralized regulation, and the history of nationalist movements. But there is no reason to think even a tenth of the UK’s population has even a basic grasp of the social science needed to evaluate Brexit.”

Source: The American founding fathers had it right:

Instead most people probably used their gut instinct and responded to more emotional and social motivations than rational deliberation. People are also heavily influenced by how they think other people in their social network will vote. Referenda are also a concern because:

  • They allow our elected representatives to avoid any responsibility for the consequences of a decision. Just look at how quickly David Cameron resigned and left politics.
  • The wording of the referendum ballot paper can potentially influence how people vote. In this instance  “Leave” was naturally associated with change and risk taking. Prospect theory tells us that when people are faced only with options that result in a loss (e.g. loss of sovereignty/control or loss of EU membership) they have a tendency to choose the risky option (i.e. Leave). “Leave” also communicated action, whilst “Remain” suggests inaction.
  • They can undermine the constitutional protection of minorities. In the case of the UK people in Scotland and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly voted in favour of remaining in the EU. As a result the Scots now have good cause to feel they are being forced to leave the EU due to an undemocratic process. Not surprisingly the SNP are now pressing for a second independence referendum.
  • People may use the referendum as a protest vote against the policies of the party in power. Voters also mix up domestic politics with those of the EU. There is certainly anecdotal evidence to suggest that some people did use the EU referendum as a protest vote against the elite because they feel they have not benefited from globalisation or don’t feel they are listened to by politicians. Indeed, since 2010 the Government has systematically reduced funding for deprived areas of the UK, the very same areas that were most likely to have voted Leave.
  • Due to the very nature of referendum, such as how the question is framed, the complexity of the decision and the coverage of the issue in the mass media, the result of referenda is very difficult to predict. This means that David Cameron essentially played Russian roulette with the electorate which by any standing was a massive blunder.

Finally, as the ex-MP Tam Dalyell said on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, if the majority of MPs want to remain in the EU they should have “the balls to say Parliament is sovereign” and to overrule Brexit. If they don’t it is no more than “cowardice” and using the referendum to “save politicians backsides”.  Isn’t it time for politicians to stand up for what they believe in and not let a flawed form of democracy determine our destiny?

Unfortunately the political elite appear intent on following each other out of the EU like lemmings over a cliff. What we need now is politicians to do what is best for the country and follow their principles rather than their desire for power.

Get a “Stop Brexit” T-shirt and other anti-Brexit merchandise from

Image of Stop Brexit T-shirt from

Related to this post is:

Reasons for blocking Article 50 – Should MPs vote to stop Article 50?

Why people voted for Brexit – The psychology of Brexit – why emotions won over logic!

How appropriate are opinion polls before elections – Do opinion polls influence voters?

What marketing can learn from Brexit – 7 Marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

How do people make most decisions – Why do people prefer to follow gut instinct to research?

Thank you reading my post. If you found this of interest please share using the social media icons on the page.


To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Are we taking the benefits of European membership for granted?

Until a few weeks ago I was busy optimising the websites and apps for 4 brands at a large online gaming company. I had 10 A/B tests running simultaneously and was seeing some excellent results that should have given a good return on investment. However, the company had recently been taken over and the preferred organisational structure was to replace centralised teams with roles dedicated to an individual brand. As a result my role disappeared and the company decided to recruit junior people for each brand to do my job. This was not ideal for me, but these things happen.

Luckily I was approached almost immediately to work on a short-term project as a freelance consultant in Paris. Although this was only for a month I jumped at the chance to gain experience of a new sector and the opportunity to work as a freelance consultant.

I have now completed the project, but as result of the work I was doing in Paris a local company has asked me if I could improve their websites for them. This has led me to investigate setting up my own business. This is obviously a risk, but it got me thinking about the up and coming European Union referendum.

Would I have been able to work in Paris if the UK were not part of the single market? Probably not as free movement of labour from a non-European Union country is not guaranteed. Sure, we have lots of people moving to the UK for work, but it works both ways. Is this something we now take for granted? My experience reminded me of the amazing opportunities there are for working in other countries because of our membership of the European Union. It would certainly be a great loss if we don’t retain the freedom to work in other European countries because of the referendum result.

Thanks for reading this short post, and if you need some help optimising your website or apps, whether you are in Germany, France, Italy, Poland, or any other European country, please bear me in mind.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as, and  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.