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Brexit: The Uncivil War – fact or fiction?

7 January 2019

11:00 PM

7 January 2019

11:00 PM

After months of controversy, James Graham’s new Brexit drama finally aired tonight, portraying the bitterly fought campaign to win the Brexit referendum. Defying the expectations of many, the show has been praised for its reasonably accurate portrayal of events, and for striking a balanced tone between Leavers and Remainers.

But as is normal when a drama is based on real-life, as the closing credits rolled viewers could easily be left wondering: how much of what took place was real, and how much was wrong, exaggerated or distorted? Happily for those wondering, Mr S is on hand to distinguish the fact from the fiction:

Vote Leave’s dodgy data

Following the Observer’s investigation into Vote Leave’s spending, it has been suggested by some that Leave only won because the campaign used nefarious data-driven tactics to trick unwitting voters into backing Brexit. Brexit: The Uncivil War appeared to take inspiration from this idea, with multiple scenes showing Leavers using data to drive their campaign, while the Remain camp were only shown holding traditional focus groups.

In reality, the Remain campaign used social media and targeted advertising just as much as their opponents, and at times during the referendum even suggested that they were better at doing it. The campaign even courted and hired Jim Messina, a former White House staffer who was a specialist in targeting individual voters through advertising.

Arron Banks’ chugging

While the Vote Leavers came out favourably in Graham’s portrayal, the rival Brexit campaign, Leave.EU, led by Arron Banks and Nigel Farage, were clearly set up to be the villains of the story. Unlike the refined, educated geniuses of the official campaign, they were lampooned as unprofessional, boorish and stupid. In what seemed like an attempt to highlight this, Arron Banks was shown at one point turning down a glass of champagne for a can of lager served on a silver platter, which didn’t quite ring true to Mr S, who knows that Banks does have a taste for the bubbly:

Bernard Jenkins’ unusual exercise routine

The show also pulled no punches when it came to eurosceptic backbench MPs, who don’t come out well in the drama. In one scene, Bernard Jenkins is shown reading the infamous Economist profile of Dominic Cummings, while using an exercise machine in his office. As he reads and becomes increasingly irate, he almost falls off the machine as it gains momentum. Unfortunately for the fans of physical comedy, Jenkins has since confirmed to Mr S that he certainly doesn’t have an exercise machine in his workplace. Or in his own words: ‘I own a Brompton! Just shows they made it up’.

The Oliver/Cummings meeting

Near the end of the drama the heads of the two campaigns, Dominic Cummings and Craig Oliver see each other across a tube platform and then go for a pint together. There is no record of the two men ever meeting during the referendum period, though Mr S hears Cummings did go for an enjoyable drink with Will Straw, executive director of Britain Stronger in Europe.

The Wetherspoons focus groups

It’s true that Dominic Cummings did tour the country during the referendum to work out what voters were thinking. But unlike the Channel 4 drama, where he is shown speaking to people in pubs, Mr S is sad to inform that these focus groups weren’t conducted in the local branch of Wetherspoons.

The grilling of Cummings

As the drama comes to an end, Dominic Cummings is hauled in front of an unnamed select committee to be grilled by MPs about his conduct during the referendum. For once the truth is probably stranger than fiction: although Cummings did testify before the Treasury select committee during the campaign, he has not faced MPs since the vote was announced. Instead, he has risked being held in contempt of parliament for defying calls by Damian Collins to testify before the DCMS select committee investigating the referendum.


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