What is it about?

This article analyses the ways in which UK national newspapers portrayed European Union economic migrants - and immigrants more generally - in the period immediately before the 2016 Brexit referendum and over the weeks and months after the country voted to the leave the EU.

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Why is it important?

The article is important because it demonstrates that the longstanding negative portrayals of foreign migrants that have characterised UK press coverage for some years are not unchallengeable or unchangeable. Although EU migrants were portrayed as an economic 'threat' to the UK in the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the period immediately after the vote saw a significant change of emphasis, as politicians, public and press appeared to recognise the likely costs to the economy of ending the 'free movement of labour'.


I feel this is an important issue as opinion polls repeatedly suggest that perceptions of migration - and immigration more generally - played a major role in determining the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum. Although these perceptions cannot entirely be 'blamed' on the news media, in the run-up to the vote the portrayals of migrants/immigrants had been relentlessly negative and one-sided for many months, if not years, particularly in more right-wing/conservative newspapers. Therefore, the media - and the politicians whose negative rhetoric they repeatedly promoted - arguably played a significant agenda-setting role in this process.

James Morrison
Robert Gordon University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Re-framing free movement in the countdown to Brexit? Shifting UK press portrayals of EU migrants in the wake of the referendum, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, June 2019, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/1369148119851385.
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