The Sun Backs Brexit – How Media Shapes Global Events

Britain’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) has proven to be one of the most divisive debates in the country’s recent history. The Leave and Remain campaigns appear evenly split as heads of state, international organisations and even media outlets have given their take on how the British people ought to vote.

With mere hours left until the vote, at least half a dozen prominent polls have put the Leave campaign ahead of the pro-EU Remain camp, with some surveys showing a ten-point swing in favour of the Brexiteers.[1] While a large part of that swing can be attributed to the recent campaign efforts of Conservative Members of Parliament Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, the Leave campaign has also been bolstered by Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper, which has come out in favour of Britain ditching the European Union on 23June. The Sun is Britain’s best-selling newspaper and is considered highly influential within the country.

While pollsters still favour a Remain victory, the odds of Brexit have increased in recent weeks. According to Bloomberg, the likelihood of a Brexit is now 42%, up from around 25% just a week ago.[2]

John Curtis, professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Scotland and one of Britain’s foremost experts on elections, puts the odds of a Brexit at about one-in-three, up from one-in-four just three weeks ago.

“This is an issue on which the British public have always demonstrated the potential to vote to leave,” Mr. Curtice told Bloomberg Television in an interview last week. “Clearly one of the crucial things between now and 23 June is whether or not the polls do move back towards Remain as voters look at the risks of leaving.”[3]

Bookies and political analysts who have long predicted a Remain victory expect risk aversion to creep back into the picture the closer we approach election day. That’s because nobody knows for certain how a Leave vote would play out and how long it would take for Britain to fully break out of the EU. Economists are in wide agreement that a vote to quit the European Union would harm Britain’s economic prospects, especially in the short-term. The lasting effects of Brexit, including its potential impact on everything from house prices to London’s financial services sector, are subject to great debate.

While it’s easy to see how the media can influence election results, Leave’s latest surge in the polls reflects a much deeper tendency among Britons to want to quit the EU. That explains why so many people still favour leaving despite huge support for remaining in the EU among the political elite. The Group of Seven, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the London-based Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have all made arguments for remaining part of the union. United States President Barack Obama has even cautioned against leaving the EU, not to mention British Prime Minister David Cameron’s aggressive campaigning for the Remain camp.

Against this backdrop, it’s difficult to see how The Sun would hold bigger sway. And while Rupert Murdoch appears to be in support of Leave, he has given free rein to his editors to set forth their informed opinion. The Times, another British daily national newspaper owned by Murdoch, has actually come out in favour of remaining in the EU.

In a lengthy article, The Times accused the Leave campaign of selling untruths to sway voters to their campaign.

“The leave campaign has not needed to varnish reality but has done so anyway,” The Times said in a recent article.

The paper added:

“We will take a maverick view where logic and the evidence support it. We have considered every aspect of the European argument with the seriousness and scepticism it deserves.

“We respect the arguments of those who would have Britain leave but on balance we believe Britain would be better off leading a renewed drive for reform within the EU rather than starting afresh outside it.”[4]

European financial markets have been on edge all week in anticipation of the vote. The British pound and London Stock Exchange have been especially volatile, as investors brace for a potential backlash on 23 June should the majority favour independence from the EU.

The Leave and Remain camps suspended their campaigns over the weekend following the death of pro-EU MP Jo Cox, who was gunned down by a man who gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” in a Westminster court on Saturday.[5]

[1] Andrew Grice (June 10, 2016). “EU referendum: Poll reveals 10-point swing toward Brexit as Leave campaign gains momentum.” Independent.

[2] Bloomberg. Brexit Watch Indicators.

[3] Robert Hutton (June 12, 2016). “U.K. Moves Closer to Brexit as The Sun Backs ‘Leave’ Vote.” Bloomberg.

[4] Daniel Boffey (June 18, 2016). “Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in two minds over EU referendum.” The Guardian.

[5] BBC News (June 18, 2016). “Jo Cox MP death: Thomas Mair in court on murder charge.”

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