The Cabinet Office has confirmed the creation of a rapid rebuttal unit to react quickly to “inaccurate media reporting” on the impact of Brexit.
The department has confirmed to Civil Service World that the unit has been formed as part of preparations for the UK’s exit from the European Union on 31 October, either with or without an agreement with Brussels.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who is responsible for leading the government’s planning for a possible no-deal exit, would launch the unit today to provide quick responses to "media myths and half-truths" about the risks of a no-deal Brexit.
The unit will be run from the Cabinet Office by civil servants with the aim of tackling the spread of “scare stories or falsehoods” on the impact of leaving the bloc.
According to the Telegraph, the unit’s response to inaccuracies could include the issuing of corrections in online tweets or blogs to directly reassuring stakeholders. The paper reports that senior government figures have become frustrated about recent stories on the impact of no deal. In particular one report that around 45,000 dairy cows being slaughtered in Northern Ireland after a no deal exit.
The Cabinet Office told CSW that the unit is separate from the department’s existing fake news rapid response unit, which was founded to tackle fake news stories in government. Examples that the unit have tackled included tackling a story that wrongly claimed the government had passed a vote claiming animals couldn’t feel pain, which followed an announcement in December 2017 that it would introduce legislation recognising animal sentience.
Another is a widely-shared story in 2018 that was entitled “Urgent national frozen veg recall after nine dead”, which the unit characterised as misinformation because it implied nine people had died recently in the UK. In fact, there had been nine deaths across Europe since 2015 caused by listeria, which had been raised as a health risk in frozen vegetable products that were recalled by supermarkets.
A Cabinet Office spokesman told CSW: “All government departments are responsible for responding to inaccurate media reporting in their areas.
“A team focusing on reacting quickly to Brexit related stories is being established as part of preparations to leave the EU on October 31, so as to reassure the public that the government will be fully prepared for the UK to leave then, whatever the circumstances.”