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Brexit and the online world

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On the anniversary of the historic Brexit vote, David Allen Green reflects on how social media has influenced the past year

Brexit was perhaps the first major legal event to be played out in the age of the internet. And the online world have not just been passive observers. Part of the shape of Brexit can even be attributed to online activity.

Brexit is about the intended departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union following the referendum which took place a year ago today (video below). But other than that general description, most things to do with Brexit have been or are still disputed or contentious. By what means should Brexit be done? What does Brexit include and exclude? What will Brexit look like at the end, if it ever comes to an end? Can it be reversed? Question after question.

And where there are disputed and contentious points there are opinions. In Brexit there are loads of opinions: below the line and above the line, many predictable and some bizarre. But the interesting thing about Brexit and the online world is not just the assertions of mere opinion but the provision of detailed explanation and even useful information.

Take for example, the Miller case on whether the Article 50 notification required an Act of Parliament. Part of the genesis of the case was, of all things, a blogpost. It was published just weeks after the vote — and had it waited until it was published in some learned journal, it would have been too late. When the case was heard both at first instance and on appeal, those on Twitter benefited from the outstanding from-court tweets of Schona Jolly QC.

And the Supreme Court hearing was streamed live (a screenshot of this below) and the court made all the court documents available online. It was a remarkable exercise in promoting the public understanding of the law.

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Or take the Brexit negotiations themselves. On the UK side there has been little published. One can speculate why this is. But on the EU side, considerable effort has been put into making all the key documents available promptly and in English — see for example here. And on Twitter, you can follow various key figures on the EU side as they engage with the tasks of Brexit. Indeed, reading the tweets of (say) Donald Tusk are a better guide to the actual progress of Brexit than most domestic media.

All this is valuable and helpful (and sometimes important) information — it is not just the chattering of the unoccupied and opinionated. As F.E. Smith once supposedly said to a clueless judge: you may be none the wiser, but you are better informed.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and journalist. He blogs at the Financial Times and Jack of Kent.

WATCH: Legal Cheek’s Katie King and Tom Connelly look back at the Brexit highs and lows of the past year

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