Furious backlash against 'pathetic' DExEU Brexit publicity campaign

With Brexit little more than two months away, a last-minute publicity campaign rushed out by the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) has been mocked by critics, variously branding it pathetic, horrible, patronising and shameful.

The main image on a new government website being promoted by DExEU
The main image on a new government website being promoted by DExEU

A 30-second radio advert launched by the government department on Tuesday features people asking how leaving the EU will affect them. But no answers are given; people are directed to a website for more information.

There was no press release or news story issued on gov.uk to announce the new campaign, and prominent journalists complained that the DExEU press office had refused to provide them with copies of the adverts.

Simon Hodgson, a former senior comms manager at the Department for Work and Pensions, commented: "The comms team responsible will have it on their desktop, so for a press officer not to provide it is staggering."

The https://euexit.campaign.gov.uk/ site being promoted in the new campaign features a grinning construction worker, a smiling farmer and a jolly pensioner among the cartoon faces depicting the British public.

But there is little new content, with the website serving as a place to direct people to numerous links to government information.

Labour MP Jo Stevens mocked the website, saying it "looked like it was made by some children in their lunch break."

David Noble, PR & communications director at the Bluewater Group, described the website as "pathetic, horrible and patronising."

And Mark McCaughrean, senior advisor for science & exploration at the European Space Agency, said: "It is so far from reflecting people's real concerns & needs, it's shameful."

Responding to the criticisms of the way the campaign has been handled, a DExEU spokesperson said: "The public information campaign is designed to inform citizens and businesses about how leaving the EU might affect them, and advise on the steps they may need to take to prepare for EU Exit."

They added: "We have tested the website with a range of individual and business users and conducted thorough research to ensure that the website is readily accessible. The content will be continually updated to ensure that the most relevant and useful information is constantly available to the businesses and citizens that use it."

Asked why the launch of the new campaign had been so low key, DExEU pointed to a comment piece written by Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, in The Express the week before.

But there was just a cursory mention of the new campaign in his 900-word article. Barclay wrote: "On Tuesday, we will start a new phase in our public information campaign, using radio and social media to further raise awareness about the need to prepare."

And DExEU did not issue a tweet about its campaign until a day after it was launched.

Asked how the campaign is being promoted, a DExEU spokesperson told PRWeek: "We will promote the public information campaign on radio, social media and out-of-home sites such as billboards and posters to ensure that people and businesses are aware of the guidance on preparing for EU Exit that is available."

DExEU declined to comment further when asked to clarify details of its handling of the campaign.

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