Leave.EU fires fresh shots at Cameron as advertising battle over Brexit hots up
The Leave.EU campaign is preparing to push out new adverts mocking the prime minister’s negotiations with European leaders – hours after deleting its last effort because it was a “rubbish joke”.
The latest ad from Britain's biggest pro-Brexit group denounces the prime minister’s attempts to renegotiate with EU leaders as a “the Great British Fudge off”.
It is set to appear in a number of newspapers on Tuesday and is accompanied by a new dedicated website where punters can purchase “commemorative fudge”.
The new ad drive comes as European Council president Donald Tusk revealed today that David Cameron’s demands that EU migrants be banned from claiming benefits until they have worked in Britain for four years have so far been rejected by other member states. In a downbeat assessment of how the UK's renegotiations are proceeding, Tusk said:
"We have to overcome the substantial political differences that we still have on the issue of social benefits and free movement.”
Leave.EU is bankrolled by the millionaire former Ukip donor Arron Banks. It has a 20-strong team who are dedicated to monitoring public sentiment on the EU and quickly producing ads that tap in to the mood.
However last night, the strategy appeared to hit a bump with the publication on Twitter of an ad stating that Christmas was “incompatible” with EU law and that Santa would have to change his colours.
After widespread bafflement on social media, Leave.EU quickly deleted the ad. What were they playing ad?
The group’s head of communications Andy Wigmore says the ad was meant as a bit of fun but some people took it seriously. He tells us:
“It was a rubbish joke. No-one got it. So we took it down.”
It was not the first time that the eurosceptic campaigners have made a contentious claim in their advertising – much to the annoyance of opponents.
Lucy Thomas, deputy director of the Stronger In campaign, tells TP that Leave.EU is misleading the public about the current state of affairs and refusing to explain what Brexit would really mean for jobs and investment in the UK.
“The Leave campaigns have let the mask slip, Project Nasty has turned into Project Clueless. Whether it’s claiming Europe will stop us celebrating Christmas, or wishing for a Guy Fawkes-style attack on the European Parliament, the lengths they are willing to go to shows the desperation as they realise they’re losing the argument.
“They tweet first and think later, having to delete inappropriate content on a daily basis. Even some on their own side think they’ve gone too far.
“Not only are they misleading the public about what our place in Europe means now, they’re refusing to explain what leaving would actually look like for jobs and investment in the UK. They have a responsibility to come clean with the public about the risks of a leap into the dark. Because we are clear that Britain is stronger in Europe: we’re more prosperous, more secure and have a louder voice on the international stage.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom in the Leave.EU ad department.
Earlier this month, the team were quick to pounce on reports of Nissan investing in the UK with an ad illustrating the happy news.
Another optimistic ad tried to show how Brexit would help Britain to prosper through free trade agreements with the biggest countries in the world.
The ad offensive is now in full flow as Leave.EU has gathered heavy-hitters from the world of political campaigning in a bid to ensure victory in the in/out referendum.
One such outfit advising the campaign is Cambridge Analytica, a data-modelling firm that US Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz recently spent $750,000 on. Also providing advice is the Washington DC-based public affairs firm Goddard Gunster, which has run dozens of referenda campaigns over the past 30 years and claims a success rate of more than 90 per cent.
Wigmore tells TP:
“Between them they’ve conjured up a strategy for us which is trying to not simplify the message, but to make it accessible, without being ordinary. That’s very difficult because for most people the EU stuff – they’re just not interested. So what you have to try and do is take a very complicated message and simplify it.
“You’ve got three audiences: those who are definitely out, those who are definitely in, and that group in the middle who you’re trying to communicate to. So you’ve got to make something appealing to them. It takes time to get that right. It’s never completely right because people respond in different way.
“And you’ve got to react to the mood. So we take daily polling on mood and that tends to drive the content that we put out. It’s never perfect and you’ve got to be very nimble with it. We’ve got a team people that constantly monitor this - and sometimes they might get it wrong.”