Dominating the debate: British MPs in Brexit reporting


Recommended citation: Hönnige, Christoph, Dominic Nyhuis, Philipp Meyer, Philipp Köker & Susumu Shikano. 2019. Dominating the debate: British MPs in Brexit reporting.

Brexit has been the most important issue in British politics in recent years. Whereas the run-up to the 2016 referendum was dominated by extra-parliamentary actors, the issue moved back to the parliamentary arena when negotiations with the EU started after the formation of the minority government led by Theresa May. This paper analyses media reporting of the Brexit debate in major British newspapers during the implementation phase from July 2017 to March 2019. We study the visibility of MPs in news reporting to assess whether the debate was balanced between parties, between government and opposition, and across individual Members of Parliament. We conduct an automated text analysis of 58,247 online and offline newspaper articles covering the full ideological spectrum from left to right, and from pro-Brexit to anti-Brexit. Our main findings are: (1) Conservative politicians dominated the Brexit debate. (2) This dominance is evident in left- and right-wing newspapers, as well as in print media and in online outlets. (3) Even among backbenchers, the debate is dominated by Conservative MPs. (4) Politicians representing Irish, Welsh, or Scottish constituencies are nearly invisible in the debate. (5) Organized MP pressure groups such as “Leave means leave” dominate the debate, mainly within the Conservative Party. (6) Within each group, the debate is concentrated on a small number of MPs as can be seen from our TopTen lists. These findings contradict previous analysis on British MPs in general, where the visibility of the main parties has been balanced.

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