The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Brexit leaders are walking back some of their biggest promises

Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)
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In the days after Britain's momentous decision to withdraw from the European Union, there has been much talk of voter's remorse. Some who voted in favor of a British exit have said they merely wanted to lodge a protest vote and hadn't expected the "leave" camp to actually win. Others said they had no idea that the implications of such a vote would be so dire.

But one of the biggest reasons for regret may end up being that promises made to "leave" voters by leading Brexit proponents are being walked back by those very leaders. On talk shows over the weekend, three of them in particular were confronted by flabbergasted hosts over their playing down of integral elements of the Brexit campaign.

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Nigel Farage was perhaps the loudest voice calling for Britain's exit from the European Union, though he wasn't officially part of the "Leave" campaign. As leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, he represented the isolationist, anti-immigration core of the Brexit movement. Speaking to the host of ITV's "Good Morning Britain," Farage called one of the "leave" campaign's biggest promises a "mistake," though he distanced himself from the decision to make the promise in the first place.

Host: "The 350 million pounds a week that we send to the E.U., which we will no longer send to the E.U., can you guarantee that's going to go to the NHS [Britain's National Health Service]?"

Farage: "No, I can't, and I would never have made that claim. It is one of the mistakes that, I think, the 'leave' campaign made."

Host: "Hold on a moment. That was one of your adverts."

They then sparred over whether it was the "leave" campaign's advertisement or Farage's in particular, before moving on. The advertisement was the campaign's, not Farage's.

Host: "That's why many people voted."

Farage: "They made a mistake doing that."

Host: "You're saying after 17 million people have voted for 'leave,' based — I don't know how many people voted on the basis of that advert, but that was a huge part of the propaganda —you're now saying that's a mistake?"

On "The Andrew Marr Show," another leading "leave" campaigner, Iain Duncan Smith, said that the £350-million figure was "an extrapolation" and that the campaign had never said that all of that money would go to the NHS, just a good portion of it. Many were quick to point out that the "leave" campaign had a bus emblazoned with the monetary figure and at least strongly implied that the money would be reallocated to the NHS. Smith is pictured below alongside the bus.

The Brexit vote was as much a referendum on Britain's immigration policies as anything else, so the promises made around that issue carried outsize weight. Immigration flows to Britain have been increasing, and levels of resentment are high among certain segments of the British public.

That explains the exasperation of a BBC Radio 5 host who was talking to "leave" campaigner Nigel Evans.

Host: "Was it not inferred that if you vote 'leave,' immigration would go down?"

Evans: "Well, we said we would control it, and that is the most important point."

Host: "Control it by bringing it down, Nigel?"

Evans: "No, but there are two differences here, and this is where there is some misunderstanding."

Evans goes on to offer some background on how the "leave" campaign's immigration promises were made, but the host cuts him off.

Host: "Straight question, straight answer, Nigel. Will immigration fall significantly when the U.K. leaves the E.U.?"

Suffice it to say that Evans does not have a straight answer.

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