Boris Johnson’s government is planning a Europe-wide media blitz to convince EU governments and citizens that the U.K. is serious about leaving, deal or no deal, on October 31.
On top of a widely reported domestic public information campaign, officials are looking at taking out pages in major European newspapers and targeting online adverts at European citizens, directing them to U.K. government information on Brexit.
Part of the European public information campaign will target and be tailored to U.K. citizens living on the Continent. But there is a wider aim to ram home the message to EU capitals that the U.K. is not bluffing when it says it will leave at the end of October.
The campaign may yet be accompanied by diplomatic overtures to European capitals, laying the ground for Johnson to meet the German, French and Italian leaders at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France at the end of August.
Although Johnson himself will not negotiate with EU leaders as long as they refuse to reopen Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, a plan for Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay to visit EU capitals in advance of the Biarritz summit is being mooted, a U.K government official said.
“It feels like we’re in campaign mode. There’s been more activity in the past three days of government than in the previous three months” — U.K. government official
On Wednesday evening, U.K Chancellor Sajid Javid announced an additional £2.1 billion in Brexit funding for government departments to prepare for a no-deal departure. Half the sum will be allocated immediately for priorities including travel infrastructure around ports, recruitment of border officers, and transport and storage for vital medicines. The other half will be held by the Treasury and can be applied for by departments and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should they seek extra cash.
“With 92 days until the U.K. leaves the European Union, it’s vital that we intensify our planning to ensure we are ready,” Javid said. “We want to get a good deal that abolishes the anti-democratic backstop. But if we can’t get a good deal, we’ll have to leave without one.”
The largest area of additional spending will be on ensuring continuity of medicines supply, with £434 million additional funding. Plus, £344 million will go toward new customs and border operations; £108 million will support business readiness; and £138 million will be available for the public information campaign, which will include an increase in consular support and information for British expatriates.
The public information drive at home and abroad is currently set to launch in the second half of August, said a second U.K. official familiar with early planning.
A government spokesperson said: “It is paramount that organizations, communities and citizens have the right information and support as the U.K. leaves the EU on the 31st October. That’s why we will launch a large-scale public information campaign setting out what business and the public need to know as we prepare to leave the EU.”
A leaflet drop to every household in the U.K. has not been ruled out, the official said, in a move that would mirror David Cameron’s decision to send every household a government leaflet urging a vote for Remain in the 2016 referendum.
The campaign has been approved by the government’s powerful new exit strategy Cabinet sub-committee — which is meeting for a second time on Thursday — and is being spearheaded by the new Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who is said to have thrown himself into his new role with vigor.
“He is commissioning briefing after briefing after briefing,” one official said. “It feels like we’re in campaign mode. There’s been more activity in the past three days of government than in the previous three months. Decisions are being made.”
Dominic Cummings, the former director of the Vote Leave campaign whom Johnson appointed as a senior adviser, will play a key role in determining the slogan of the campaign, the official said. Cummings is credited with coining the highly successful “Take back control” slogan.
This time the overarching message will be that the U.K. is on its way out, “and that it will be OK,” the official added.
The overall cost of the campaign, if the £138 million budget is spent, would be comparable to the global marketing spend of a major blockbuster film, according to marketing expert Eugenio Triana, of Birmingham City University.
Since Johnson took office last week with a promise to “turbocharge” preparations for Brexit, deal or no deal, the machinery of government has been rewired, with the formation of the new six-person exit strategy Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Johnson, and a daily operations Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Gove.
Gove, the former environment secretary who brought a reforming zeal to his job at that department, is now the key political figure co-ordinating the U.K.’s Brexit plan. He has been given authority to instruct officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union, where many of the senior civil servants preparing for no-deal Brexit are based.
Downing Street has said Johnson will not hold negotiations with EU leaders on Brexit until they drop the condition that the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement struck with Theresa May last year cannot be reopened. Johnson wants to strip out the backstop plan for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as a pre-requisite for a new deal. If he does not get it, he has vowed to leave without a deal.