Brexit would have failed without Boris Johnson keeping Nigel Farage off television screens in the final days of the referendum campaign, the mastermind of Vote Leave has said.
Dominic Cummings, the former adviser to Michael Gove who ran the official ‘Out’ campaign, has warned the 600,000 votes that swung the referendum would have been at risk if the ex-Ukip leader had been given more exposure.
In a wide-ranging, 20,000 word piece, Cummings - the man credited with coining the “vote leave, take control” slogan - makes clear the reasons for the leave victory are complex, and dismisses the “one big factor” narrative.
But he repeatedly condemns figures involved with Leave.EU, the rival ‘Out’ campaign that failed to win the official designation, who he describes as “Farage’s motley crew” out-of-touch with the public who struggled to use Google.
Cummings says Farage’s high profile in the final days of campaigning could have been disastrous. He wrote:
“Without Boris, Farage would have been a much more prominent face on TV during the crucial final weeks, probably the most prominent face.
“(We had to use Boris as leverage with the BBC to keep Farage off and even then they nearly screwed us as ITV did.)
“It is extremely plausible that this would have lost us over 600,000 vital middle class votes.”
He also argues Gove, who along with Johnson was one of the figureheads of Vote Leave, was vital not only to keeping the campaign together, but also batting off a “losing message like ‘Go Global’”, which he explains was as a “firm favourite for many years among a subset of MPs and Farage’s inner circle ... and a total loser with the public”.
He goes on to make clear how toxic he believed Farage was, including his presence on the Leave side as a major advantage for the ‘In’ campaign. He writes:
“Farage put off millions of (middle class in particular) voters who wanted to leave the EU but who were very clear in market research that a major obstacle to voting Leave was ‘I don’t want to vote for Farage, I’m not like that’.
“He also put off many prominent business people from supporting us. Over and over they would say ‘I agree with you the EU is a disaster and we should get out but I just cannot be on the same side as a guy who makes comments about people with HIV’.”
Cummings is referring to Farage suggesting in 2015 foreigners with HIV should not be treated on the NHS.
He goes on to say the “vapid slogans” proposed by Leave.EU - which also included ‘Be in the know’ - showed “how little they understood the electorate and mass communication”. He added:
“They rejected the connection between immigration, £350 million and the NHS, which was absolutely vital, as the ‘In’ side has said after 23 June. They published dumb offensive videos. They talked about privatising the NHS. They built little grassroots organisation and their claims about social media were (and remain) laughable.”
“The media would have covered this gang’s official campaign as a version of their own book – a bunch of childish dodgy boozers on an ego trip.”
He is referring to Bad Boys of Brexit, the account of Farage’s campaign by Arron Banks, the multi-millionaire who has bankrolled Ukip.
In his final jibe, Cummings dismisses the suggestion that he ran the campaign to lose it deliberately to get a Downing Street job as “pointless to discuss”, but adds:
“Though the fact that they understood so little about the political environment, and struggled to use Google, was an important fact.”