Brexit really does mean Brexit

Much of the language used by politicians to talk about Brexit over the past five years was simple, clear, and easy to understand. This is the conclusion of a new report from storytelling consultancy Insight Agents, analysing the language of Britain's departure from the European Union found in a wide range of publications and official Government and EU documents. The report was published to coincide with the Society for Storytelling's annual National Storytelling Week at the start of February – which also just happens to be the first week after Britain left the EU.

Researchers from the Sussex Innovation Catalyst Team gathered the raw text used in campaign leaflets, speeches and letters, news articles and blogs, and legislation. They then analysed how simple or complex the documents were to read. They used the well-established Flesch Kincaid (FK) reading ease tool, via www.readable.io. The analysis allowed the researchers to rank the documents of Brexit by linguistic clarity.

The report found that Brexit legislation used the most opaque language of all. This was followed by speeches and letters, then articles and blogs. Speeches made by politicians to other politicians were harder to understand than when they talked to more generalist audiences about Brexit. The easiest language to understand was found in campaign leaflets, with politicians talking directly to members of the public. Prime Minister Johnson's two Queen's speeches in 2019 used comparatively inaccessible language. The stop-gap speech of October was harder to understand than the "let's get on with things" speech from mid-December.

Because the December 2019 General Election was fundamentally all about Brexit, researchers also analysed the linguistic clarity of the six main parties' manifestos. The Brexit Party's "Contract with the People" was 90% shorter than all the other major parties' manifestos and was the clearest and easiest to understand. Next came the Conservatives' – complete with a record eight images of Johnson – and then the Greens'. The two manifestos least clearly expressed belonged to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats' manifesto was both the longest and the hardest to understand, reaching just 70% of the population. The clarity of the manifestos is summarised in the table below.

Brexit readability report

"Contrary to popular belief, the language used by most politicians most of the time about Brexit in the past five years has been comparatively straightforward and easy to understand," said Sam Knowles, founder and MD of Insight Agents. "It's true that legislation is relatively inaccessible, and politicians tend to indulge themselves in harder-to-grasp language when they're speaking to peers rather than directly to the public. Not all communication about Brexit was as simplistic - or effective - as Dominic Cummings' three-word soundbites. Nevertheless, the language of the referendum and debates about Brexit has been surprisingly clear and accessible."

Download a copy of the Brexit really does mean Brexit report here.