Martin Ison looks at how Brexit was a triumph of propaganda, some valuable lessons in persuasive communications we can all use in business – and where that £40 billion is coming from and going to…

I have to confess that before the Referendum, I hadn’t given EU membership much thought. I just got on with work; comms projects and training people in corporate communications and persuasive writing… that sort of stuff…

But there was one instance about the EU debate that made my ears prick up. It made me start looking more deeply into the EU subject. I have to confess, before that, I didn’t much care. Then I came to realise something important before the referendum and shouted warnings at the top of my lungs. But nobody listened: it was all immigration this, NHS that, and sovereignty the other…

It started when someone sent me Brexit The Movie on LinkedIn – an hour-long video documentary on why the EU is an evil, controlling, undemocratic organisation that needs to be thrown into hades and locked away for eternity.

Personally, I had no idea that the EU could make bananas so evil…

Why spend that amount on a video?

Now, as ‘persuasion’ is my thing, I tend to not accept things on face value. I always ask awkward questions like: ‘Why am I receiving this message?’ and ‘Who’s benefiting from this?’ and ‘Am I being distracted from something else?’.

I calculated that the video, along with its Leicester Square Champagne launch event, must have knocked a hole in at least £150,000. So it must have been funded by some wealthy business people (with a bit of crowd funding from like-minded thinkers). Now that’s quite a considerable sum to be spent on one video – and this was to be just a small part of a lot of money spent to influence voters to get us out of the EU.

At that time in June 2016, the questions in my head were: why spend this amount? What was their ROI (Return On Investment)? Because nobody – especially business people – spends any money just for the sake of a ‘high-minded principles’. They must get something of greater value in return for the money first spent.

So who gained from spending such huge budgets on promoting Brexit?

I started taking the EU question seriously because considerable money was being spent on persuasion, and it’s always harder to persuade people to change than to remain the same – so why bother?

Now let’s back-track a few years…

When Greece nearly broke all its plates

Do you remember back in 2010 when Greece virtually collapsed and they nearly broke all their plates at once?

The EU was worried about all those other weaker members like Portugal, Spain and even Ireland following suit like dominoes. The ‘Troika’ – that’s the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB) – had been forking out all the dosh and taking all the risk. They were running out of funds to keep propping things up. The Troika bankers started wondering why they were taking all the risk to prop-up Greece, but none of the member government economies were contributing. Then they realised: the EU members’ economies were running dry themselves. Where was all their money disappearing to in this time of need?

The answer was: Corporate Tax Avoidance was siphoning money away from their respective exchequers .

Corporate Tax avoidance – and we’re not talking cash-in-hand plumbers here, we are talking industrial-scale (literally) systematic methods to not pay any tax on profits. It meant that profits were cleverly being shifted around so efficiently that the valuable taxation income, which should have been going into those member country’s coffers, was ending up in havens.

Thank havens for that! someone must have been thinking.

Secrets of persuasion

So that’s the back story. Hold that thought for a moment and we’ll take a look at ‘influencers’, ‘segmented target audiences’ and ‘messages’ to them…

Now, imagine you’re insanely wealthy and you’ve never paid tax before in your life. You’d start to feel that it was your RIGHT to not pay any tax, wouldn’t you? I mean this tax-paying lark is just not your thing is it? Anyone would understand that…

Now imagine that the EU was about to make you start paying tax by changing the rules as from 28th January 2016.

You’d want to change all that wouldn’t you? You’d want to get out of the EU as quickly as possible? It stands to reason. But there are a few issues getting in the way of what you want. Well, 47 million issues to be exact: the Great British voting public.

Because you’re clever, you don’t want to bring up the ‘T’ word in your campaign… to do so would be suicide… so you base your campaign on things that interest them not you. In persuasive communications, you get people to do what you want by showing them how to get what they want.

Okay… so you are the ‘influencer’, and they are the ‘target audience’. These 47 million peeps are all different and they all have different interests, likes and issues. So, how do you persuade them? Certainly not by assuming they understand you and your needs.

Well, firstly, it’s handy to know that the two greatest motivators in life are ‘Fear’ and ‘Greed’ (or self-interest). That’s what motivates any organism to do literally anything. For example, Fear of threat makes a rabbit run from a hungry wolf … but also Greed for a bit of rumpy-pumpy (thus ensuring survival of its genes) can make that rabbit run just as fast towards a lady-rabbit wearing a spot of make-up.

And let’s face it, during the referendum, both sides used the ‘Fear’ and ‘Greed’ card: fair enough.

What makes you do what you do?

There are other things that make people do what you want them to do – but first you have to identify their ‘Emotional Activators’ (things that make people get excited or hot under the collar); and their ‘Motivational Drivers’ (things that make them do something about it).

These are the factors that tip you over the edge to make you act in a certain way – and they are based on ‘Beliefs’ and ‘Feelings’, not necessarily ‘Facts’. They are all levers for you to pull to get people to do something in certain ways (i.e. to vote). All you have to do is pull the right levers for the right people at the right times.

This explains why certain meaningless phrases and promises were used, such as: ‘Bring Back Sovereignty’; ‘Taking Back Control’; ‘Mega-bucks for the NHS’; ‘Immigration – Breaking Point’. The Influencers themselves are not worried about these issues – they’re rich: they don’t use the NHS; they don’t live in areas where there are ethnic-minority ghettos. Why should they be worried on your behalf?

And as they’ve amply demonstrated, these Influencers certainly aren’t too keen on parliamentary sovereignty when it doesn’t suit their own purpose. They already have control, more or less … but it’s control over their tax arrangements that they are most concerned about losing.

So ‘Tax’ is the Big White Elephant in the Brexit room that no Influencer – neither Leave nor Remain – wants to discuss, and it always has been.

Why the Referendum was on June 23rd 2016

It explains why the referendum was on June 23rd 2016 – literally THREE DAYS after the EU adopted the Directive (EU) 2016/1164 on June 20th 2016 and finally ‘laid down the rules against tax avoidance practices that directly affect the functioning of the internal market’.

Trouble is, all major Influencers on both sides, are very wealthy – most of whom are using tax avoidance techniques in some form. David Cameron allegedly was, as was and is most of the cabinet of millionaires. Theresa May’s hubby, Mr Theresa May, works for a company that makes its living out of tax avoidance advice and has itself paid no tax for the past eight years, even though it has paid its directors £43 million in that time.

This is why, no Influencer, regardless of Leave or Remain would ever talk about the big white elephant in the room: Tax. Imagine what a vote-winner it would have been for Remain! (*shhh! Don’t mention the T word.*)

It explains all that fuss about pulling the Article 50 ‘pin out of the grenade’ by the end of March 2017 ready or not. Why end of March when there’s not even a plan? Well, it all makes sense, when you realise that it’s the end of the tax year.

I’m a tax avoider get me out of here!

It also explains why the NHS is still being starved of funding and not £350m per week better off… it explains why parliamentary sovereignty is being trampled over rough-shod… it explains why there’s no plan… it explains why David Davies has undertaken no Sector Impact Assessments on the likely affects that Brexit will have on industry…

Someone somewhere said: “I don’t care what happens to the country – I’m a tax avoider get me out of here!”.

It explains why 87% of advert-carrying newspaper coverage was/is pro-Brexit. They’re owned by people who don’t live in this country and have never paid tax here – along with their advertisers with similar arrangements. Some of these newspapers are still terrified that we may slip backwards and remain in the EU; hence the periodic frenzied cranking up of Euro-hatred. Heaven forbid a cancellation of Brexit – most newspapers are suffering as we get our news elsewhere, make ’em pay tax and they could collapse.

It also explains why the BBC isn’t bothered: it doesn’t carry advertising, and it’s heavily influenced by American foreign policy (to put it mildly) which stated its position against Brexit just before the Referendum.

What the £40 billion Brexit fee is for

And yet STILL nobody’s talking about Brexit and Tax. Which wealthy Brexit or Remain Influencer would like to draw attention to their own tax affairs? None.

So what of the EU’s Troika bankers and its huge hole (€90 billion at least) paid to prop up places like Greece and save the Euro? As a member, we are pledged to help shore up the weaker states to help support the on-going Union. Now you know what a large amount of the £40 billion Brexit fee will be used for.

The annoying thing is, according to the EU’s plan to change taxation rules, that £40 billion should have been taken from tax money rescued from tax-avoiding corporates… but now it’s coming from your tax and my tax that you and I pay every month, and not the ones actually avoiding paying theirs. Which is what this was all about in the first place.

That is a heck of a Return On Investment for a £150,000 video.

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