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Trump to Toblerone: How Britain googles Brexit

In the two years since the EU referendum was first announced, millions of Brits have turned to Google for answers to ...

Posted: Mar 28, 2018 12:47 PM
Updated: Mar 28, 2018 12:47 PM

In the two years since the EU referendum was first announced, millions of Brits have turned to Google for answers to their Brexit questions.

From requests for "brexit news" to queries about the future of Marmite and Toblerone in post-Brexit Britain, their searches have ranged from the predictable to the somewhat random.

As the UK prepares to start the one year countdown to leaving the European Union on Thursday, CNN used search data provided by Google and gathered from Google Trends and Google AdWords to look at how Brexit-related search terms have changed over time.

'Brexit'

In February 2016, then-Prime Minister -- and Remain campaigner -- David Cameron announced the EU referendum would take place on June 23, describing the vote as "one of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetimes."

Google searches for "brexit" began to rise as the vote loomed, surging rapidly in the week of the referendum -- and falling quickly afterward.

Peaks in searches for "brexit" since then have reflected key milestones on the road to Britain's departure from the EU.

READ MORE: From 'titanic success' to 'Mad Max': How language around Brexit changed

Questions

Brits have turned to Google for information -- and advice -- throughout the process. In the days after Cameron's announcement, "what is brexit" was the top search question. "What does brexit mean" and "what are brexit pros and cons" also made the top five.

In the month after the vote, skepticism and concern about the future -- "will brexit happen" and "what happens after brexit" -- surged up the list of the most-googled Brexit-related questions in the UK.

But almost two years on, some people still seem confused by the term itself -- searches for "what is brexit" have outpaced searches for the other top questions throughout the process.

But the number of people asking any of these questions is still quite small. According to Google estimates, fewer than 10,000 people (and perhaps as few as 1,000) in the UK tapped "what is brexit" into the search bar last month. Rather than full questions, people tend to use key terms to search for information.

READ MORE: UK and EU strike Brexit transition deal

Search terms

Many of the most popular Brexit-related search terms in the UK haven't changed over the last two years. "Latest brexit news" -- or a variation on that query -- has been the number one search term for 17 of the last 25 months with the undying query -- "what is brexit" -- also featuring regularly in the top five.

High-volume searches for Brexit polls and odds in the run-up to the vote were replaced with queries about exchange rates ("pound to euro" and "pound to dollar") and house prices in the months afterward.

Other popular searches echo political events. "Theresa may brexit" surged as a search term after she became Prime Minister in July 2016 (and has made it into the top five most months since), as did "trump brexit" after his election as US President later that year.

Britain's controversial and pro-Brexit Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson features on several top ten lists of rapidly rising Google searches -- while searches for "david cameron brexit" plummeted following his resignation the day after the vote.

Legal and parliamentary battles over the Brexit process propelled "brexit court case, "supreme court brexit" and "house of lords brexit" into the top five searches in late 2016 and early 2017, while persistent concerns about the future status of people from other EU countries kept "brexit EU citizens" in the top five for most of last year.

READ MORE: Brexit is a mess because of giant political egos

Stranger searches

But not all Brexit-related searches seem quite so rational. Some of the fastest rising searches in the months following the vote -- "brexit toblerone," "titanic brexit" or "brexit means breakfast" -- seem mystifying at first glance. The culprit was usually a viral meme or a well-publicized rumor.

When the Sun newspaper ran a controversial story in March 2016 claiming that Queen Elizabeth -- who is duty-bound to be politically neutral -- supported Britain's departure from the EU, thousands of Brits started googling "queen backs brexit" and variations on that phrase.

"Brexit regret" was the biggest breakout search in the week after the referendum, suggesting some voters were already ruing their decision -- or perhaps googling for the deluge of stories being published about remorseful Brexiters.

In the months since, Google has seen a surge in food-related searches as Brits have fretted about the future of various gastronomic products.

As rumors swirled in the hours after the result that all UK branches of the Portuguese-style chicken restaurant Nandos would soon close, tens of thousands of sleep-deprived Brits started asking Google if it was true (it was not).

Similar flurries followed rumors that Marmite and France's Camembert cheese could disappear from supermarket shelves (didn't happen) and that Toblerone bars were shrinking as a result of the vote to leave the EU (well, they did shrink but not because of Brexit).

A series of verbal gaffes by politicians and commentators propelled searches for "brexit means breakfast" in March last year, while memes and a video mocking Boris Johnson's claim that the government would make a "titanic success" of Brexit drove searches for "titanic brexit" the following month.

More recently, an announcement in January this year that the Royal Mail would not be producing a stamp to commemorate Brexit spurred some Brits to design their own -- mostly satirical -- versions, promptly sending "brexit stamps" up the list of popular search terms.

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