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A $60 million Brexit ad campaign did not make Brits much better prepared for EU departure

British newspapers show full-page advertisements by the UK Government as part of its public information campaign to get the public and business owners ready for Brexit, September 2, 2019
DANIEL SORABJI | AFP | Getty Images

A "Get Ready for Brexit" ad campaign run by the British government last year did not "significantly" prepare citizens for the country's exit from the EU, according to a report published Tuesday.

The campaign encouraged British citizens to take various actions, such as checking their passport's validity and buying health insurance when travelling to the EU and aimed to get EU citizens living in the U.K. to register for a settlement scheme, among other things. Adverts directed people to the gov.uk/brexit website.

But the campaign could not demonstrate that it "resulted in significantly better preparedness," according to watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).

The Cabinet Office, which supports British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, spent £46 million ($59.9 million) out of a possible £100 million budget on the marketing campaign for the period September 1 to October 28. The campaign was stopped three days before October 31, after Britain agreed to delay Brexit until January 31.

While 73% of people the Cabinet Office surveyed recalled the campaign when shown an advert, only 34% had looked or started to look for information, which was about the same proportion who had done so before the campaign started. The Cabinet Office surveyed around 1,000 adults in the U.K. each week for 11 weeks, starting the month before the Brexit ad campaign began.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, praised the Cabinet Office for bringing multiple departments together and quickly launching a complex campaign, but said it did not put enough of a focus on the outcomes it needed.

"If the Cabinet Office faces a similar challenge in the future, it should, from the start, focus much more on what impact is needed and how best to deliver the behaviour change required by government, targeting spending on the activities that are likely to add the greatest value," Davies said in an online statement.

The U.K. will stop being a member of the EU at 11 p.m. London time on Friday. 

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