Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Brexit campaigners unhappy truths exposed by savvy marketing campaign

Led by Donkeys takes on the big hitters pushing for British exit from EU

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage launched his new political party, the Brexit Party, in Coventry on 12 April 2019. EPA
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage launched his new political party, the Brexit Party, in Coventry on 12 April 2019. EPA

St Pancras Way is a long one-way street that carries traffic through north London into the heart of the capital. It snakes through the hipster haven of Camden and on to redeveloped Kings Cross station, an area stuffed with global businesses including the headquarters of YouTube.

Motorists pass roadside billboards including one marking the 25th anniversary of the Eurostar train service that operates as the gateway for British travel to Europe.

Another big display looks at first glance as if its a manifesto pledge for the Brexit Party that is currently polling more than 25 per cent for this week's European elections. But the words on the banner are no proud boast but instead are suggestive of betrayal.

Superimposed over a picture of Brexit Party candidate Ben Habib, a property developer, the quite provides his take on the collapse in sterling since the 2016 vote to leave the EU.

"The pound would fall in value .... our [company] income streams would go up in value. So we're quids in on that front."

While purporting to be a banner from the campaign, the poster is the product of a upstart crowd-funded exercise by a group of four friends who have set out to demolish the credibility of the so-called Brexiteers. Led by Donkeys refers to the First World War saying that British troops fought bravely but were betrayed by idiotic decisions by generals: Lions led by Donkeys.

Mr Habib, who is the lead candidate in London for the Brexit Party, said the poster misrepresents his investment views as a businessman. Any slump in UK values is the outcome of "Project Fear" -- the deluge of baleful economic forecasts based on assumptions that the UK would quit the EU without a deal.

‘I have been clear for three years: market weakness related to Brexit is irrational and brought on by Project Fear," he said. "I am still saying it. Blame the proponents of Project Fear, which is still being promoted. My position is consistent and rational: I believe in the UK and I am putting my money where my mouth is by buying UK property."

In two phases, the campaign, by four men in their 30s and 40s, set out to puncture the rhetoric behind demands that Britain quit Europe. In particular they took aim at figures like Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading Conservative.

In the first phase the roadside billboards contrasted the pledges by the Brexiters ahead of the referendum. Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary and now favourite to be next prime minister, was plastered on a wall in Leeds proclaiming: "There is no plan for a no deal because we are going to get a great deal."

After a brief regrouping it set out to disrupt Mr Farage's Brexit Party campaign, following his bus with large displays of unfavourable quotes.

The targets of the collective's humour have now hit back claiming the campaign is illegal. A growing funding scandal now surrounds the European parliamentary election in Britain.

Mr Farage's Brexit Party is newly established private company that he controls. It has raised £2.75 million in a matter of months. The official elections regulator carried out a snap inspection on Tuesday amid allegations that donations from overseas could be traced to hostile foreign governments.

Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, suggested that Mr Farage's outfit would be better know as the Paypal Party than the People's Party mantle he aspires to capture.

The Led by Donkey's campaign has raised more than £438,000 as of Tuesday. They refute the allegations that they are engaged in illegal political activity yet there is no doubt their intervention has made a mark on the political debate. The Liberal Democrats party has since adopted the poster-style slogan "B*ll*cks to Brexit".

For the four men, the point of the exercise is not the belief they will Brexit but that there is some counterpoint to the hardline rhetoric from Brexiters. “We’re not so arrogant as to think that four dads with a ladder are going to turn this thing around,” one of the group, which has remained anonymous has said. “But a heist was committed in 2016 and it feels like standing outside the bank watching the getaway car screaming into the middle distance with no one tracking them down. OK, it’s two and a half years late, but we are chasing these people down.”

Updated: May 22, 2019 05:57 PM

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