Mistaken Identity

The Brexit Supporter That Never Was

A Leave.eu supporter waves a flag at a party after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in London, Britain, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The Reuters picture caption reads: "A Leave.eu supporter waves a flag at a party after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in London, Britain, June 23, 2016."
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Our reporter became famous around the world as a Brexit supporter. Trouble is he didn’t even have the right to vote Thursday.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mathias Brüggmann covers international politics and Russia for Handelsblatt.
    • He was part of a team of 40 Handelsblatt journalists in London this week for Britain’s historic referendum on E.U. membership.
    • Mr. Brüggmann attended a UKIP referendum watching party Thursday night in the full Brexit regalia.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Photographs of me traveled around the world on Friday. I went viral. It was phototographers from Reuters, AP and other photo agencies that caught me in such a good light. I even made it on the front page of the online edition of London’s Evening Standard.

It’s a crazy story that says something about Britain’s media landscape today. My picture, with a Union Jack paper hat and Union Jack paper flag in one hand, was used by the Standard for a story about voters that had come to regret their vote for a Brexit.

There’s just one problem: As a German, I didn’t even have a vote in Britain’s referendum. That doesn’t exactly make me the ideal candidate for such a story.

A supporter of leaving the EU celebrates at a party hosted by Leave.EU in central London as they watch results come in from around the country after Thursday's EU referendum, Friday, June 24, 2016. On Thursday, Britain voted in a national referendum on whether to stay inside the EU. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT, NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE
The AP caption read: “A supporter of leaving the EU celebrates at a party hosted by Leave.EU in central London as they watch results come in from around the country after Thursday’s EU referendum, Friday, June 24, 2016.” Source: AP

 

There were dozens of photographers and television cameras capturing me at a referendum party in the early hours of Friday, on the 29th floor of Millbank Towers on the Thames. Nearly all tabloids on hand asked me for an interview, assuming I was a Brexit supporter.

Now they seem to be using my picture for their stories, without ever clarifying who I was.
True, I had “Vote to Leave” and “Labour Leave” stickers on and was waving a Union Jack flag around.

But all of it was part of an elaborate effort to get close to UKIP’s leadership, with good results. I’ve carried out three short interviews in the past four days with UKIP leader and seminal E.U. hater Nigel Farage. On referendum night I was even shown inside information on a mobile phone by the leadership team of the populist right-wing party.

epa05386813 A man reacts to a vote count results screen at an 'Leave.EU Referendum Party' in London, Britain, 23 June 2016. Britons await the results on whether they remain in, or leave the European Union (EU) after a referendum on 23 June. EPA/HANNAH MCKAY +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
The DPA caption was more neutral: “A man reacts to a vote count results screen at an ‘Leave.EU Referendum Party’ in London, Britain, 23 June 2016.” Source: DPA

 

Of course, the British media aren’t really interested in all that background. They took their pictures and filmed me and published the photographs without approaching me or ever asking themselves who the man in the picture might be.

That’s how you can become the man who regrets his vote for Brexit, despite having never entered a polling booth on Thursday.

 

Matthias Brüggmann is a Handelsblatt correspondent who normally covers serious issues like Russia and international relations. To contact the author: brueggmann@handelsblatt.com  

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