Could a pro-Brexit press take 'leave' over the line in Thursday's referendum?

PRWeek EU Referendum Panel: 'Leave' has the support of much of the UK's press, and several instinctively pro-EU titles are not being as forceful as they might. Could this win the day for the Brexit campaign, asks pro-'leave' Mark Gallagher.

During the last referendum in 1975, the entire national press – with the exception of The Spectator and the Morning Star - supported Britain’s membership of the Common Market. This near unanimity was one reason for the thundering 67 per cent ‘yes’ vote achieved then, with only the Outer Hebrides conclusively voting ‘no’.

How things change.

In the subsequent 41 years, the EEC has morphed - mutated, perhaps - into the European Union and scepticism has grown to the point where the electorate now appears to be split down the middle.

The role of national newspapers in British national life has diminished in those same 41 years. But if the polls are right and both sides are neck-and-neck in 2016, then the role of the national press in these last few critical days of campaigning could be as crucial now as it was in 1975. On that basis, all may not be well for the 'remain' camp.

Not only is 'leave' supported by a little over half the national daily and Sunday press titles, but between them, these same press supporters of Brexit have an overwhelming advantage in terms of circulation – 4.65 million print editions, let alone their online equivalents or their broader readership. The Sun and the Daily Mail are the 600lb gorillas in this camp. But The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Star and the Daily Express titles all play their part, too.

By contrast, 'remain' can count on The Times, The Guardian and The FT – a collective circulation of just 758,000. You’ll see that I’ve not included the Daily Mirror’s 790,000 circulation in this analysis, and for good reason. Because while the Mirror is undoubtedly a 'remain' newspaper by instinct, my understanding is that well over half its readership is not. Which rather hampers its freedom of editorial manoeuvre and has led it to be more Brexit-neutral than one might expect.

Metro, the London Evening Standard and the i have another 2.5 million circulation between them, but again have tended to be rather more even-handed in their coverage.

If the vote is as close as we are led to believe, then this pro-Brexit advantage in the national press could be hugely significant. We'll find out in a few days' time.

Mark Gallagher is senior partner and founder at Pagefield and is pro-'leave'

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