Brexit’s Disappearance from the News Cycle

A timeline of how the UK's burning political issue vanished from online conversation

Alongside the weather report, Brexit had become a fixture of Britain’s evening news. Even the sports section had the occasional quieter day, but Brexit just kept on rattling away, with no sign it would ever relinquish its hold on the headlines.

COVID-19, of course, changed all that. It was not simply true to say that the pandemic had relegated the referendum result to a more supporting role. Instead, interest in Brexit plummeted precipitously.

Although consistently the one topic on everyone’s tongue, conversation around Brexit was not steady; it spiked as different news items or influential voices impacted the discussion. A piece of minor political wrangling, or a tweet from a celebrity, could set off a chain of heated reactions that kept online audiences engaged until the next concrete piece of news.

Around the time of the election, these spikes became both sharper and more regular, with the contest framed as a matter of getting Brexit ‘done’. Ordinarily, we might have expected this volume of conversation to remain high, as a victorious Boris Johnson exercised his mandate, but the escalating severity of COVID-19 quickly put pay to that.

For all the passions awoken by Brexit, the volume of conversation had begun to fade in mid-2019. The news items that detailed it had largely become focused on legalese and political impasses, frustrating and dull for viewers, and even some politicians. The unknown elements of the country’s progression were murky, and seemed destined to reside in closed off courtrooms and civil servant offices.

COVID-19 was a very different type of story. Its own unknowability made it terrifying, and it drove Brexit from both the newsroom and social media forums.

Despite this, May has seen an uptick in Brexit interest, as familiar battle grounds are drawn around issues like re-opening businesses and Dominic Cummings’ northern expedition. Equally, the phased return of business-as-usual may mean that the issues of yesterday will be back with us before long.

For many in the UK, seeing Brexit back on their screens would be a strange, but undeniable, comfort.

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