UK Web Archive blog

27 April 2020

The Brexit Collection in the UK Web Archive

By Jennie Grimshaw, Curator of Official Publications, The British Library

The vote to leave the EU on June 23rd 2016 by 52% to 48% bitterly divided the nation. Remainers argued that the margin of victory was narrow, and that Leave voters had been misled. They saw Brexit as a self-inflicted wound and campaigned for a second referendum.  Leavers accused the Remain camp of seeking to undermine democracy and frustrate the clearly expressed will of the majority of voters. They saw Brexit as an opportunity to throw off what they viewed as the shackles of the EU and become a proud, independent sovereign nation once again.

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The Brexit web archive collection follows on directly from the EU Referendum Collection and traces the course of the increasingly bitter battle to either overturn Brexit or “get it done” from June 24th 2016 to Brexit Day on January 31st 2020.  It was created by web archivists and curators at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and the national libraries of Scotland and Wales working in collaboration over three years.  It seeks to achieve balance by including:

  • News reports, indexed at the level of the individual article, from pro-Brexit, anti-Brexit and neutral newspapers and broadcasters. Pro-Brexit sources include the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express newspapers. Overtly anti-Brexit sources are represented by the Guardian and the Independent.  Coverage of broadcast news sources focuses on the BBC, ITV and Sky News. The aim is to document every twist and turn of the unbelievably complex and convoluted process of delivering the EU Referendum result in order to guide enquirers through the labyrinth.
  • A range of online only news and comment services, indexed at the site level, including Politics Home, Politics.co.uk, Huffingtom Post, CAPX, The Conversation, Spiked and Unherd. Unfortunately Politico had to be excluded as it operates outside of the UK web domain.
  • Legislation and legal commentary, covering bills, Commons and Lords debates,  briefings on them by the Commons and Lords Libraries, legal challenges and case law, and comment in blogs such as EU Law Analysis and by professional groups such as Lawyers for Britain
  • Government and Parliamentary action, offering Commons and Lords Select Committee reports, analysis by the Commons and Lords Libraries, and speeches, press notices, letters and guidance from GOV.UK.
  • The EU view on developments as reported by UK-based news sources. The constraints of the UK Non-Print Legal Deposit regulations meant that we could not include EU institutional websites based in Brussels!
  • The voices of politicians of all parties, heard through their websites, Twitter feeds, and blogs such as Conservative Home, Conservative Woman, Labour List and Liberal Democrat Voice.
  • Comment by pro- and anti-Brexit pressure groups such as Best for Britain and the People’s Vote Campaign (anti-Brexit) and Brexit Central and Better Off Out (pro-Brexit)
  • The voices of a wide range of trade and professional associations,  charities, business organisations and trade unions lobbying government and speaking up for and advising their members. Some voices are sadly silenced due to technical difficulties, such as the website of The3Million, which speaks for EU citizens in the UK, but which cannot be archived because it is Wix-based.  Others which are heard range from business associations MakeUK  and the CBI to charities like Age UK and professional bodies such as the British Veterinary Association.
  • Research and analysis by pro- and anti- EU think tanks such as Centre for European Reform, the Federal Trust,  Policy Exchange, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Red Cell, Briefings for Brexit,  Demos, IPPR  and Centre for Policy Studies, the Institute for Government, Global Britain, Politeia,  etc.
  • Sub-Collections on the impact of Brexit on Wales and Scotland built up energetically by colleagues at their respective National Libraries.
  • Sub-collections on the impact on Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, especially the vexed question of the Irish land border.

The path leading to Brexit day on January 31st was long and winding. The debate polarised society and strained the UK constitution to breaking point as Remainers in a hung Parliament fought across party lines to delay or prevent Brexit  and Leavers went to equally extreme lengths to deliver it. The process saw the birth of Lawfare as Remainers used legal challenges to seek to block it.  Brexit also destabilised the devolution settlement and reignited calls for Scottish independence. We hope that by documenting the debate as it played out on the Internet and on social media we can help researchers to gain understanding in retrospect of this tumultuous period of our history.