London — Three years after the monumental Brexit vote, Britain is no closer to agreeing to a deal on how to leave the European Union. But a group of four campaigners in London has taken it upon themselves to launch a passionate plea to remain in Europe, shining a very public spotlight on the politicians who promised Brexit would be easy.
The audacious guerilla campaign began in an innocuous London pub, when four young dads decided to hold politicians accountable for the Brexit chaos.
“Nobody was going back to those politicians and saying, ‘Hang on, in June 2016, you promised this, you said that. You said we hold all the cards. You said we’ve got the European Union over a barrel,'” Ben Stewart said.
Since June 2016, Brexit has sunk two prime ministers, thrown favorable European trade deals into uncertainty, and left a nation bitterly divided. And yet three years after the U.K. voted to leave the EU, it is still no closer to an agreed exit plan — despite the looming October departure date.
As James Sadri, Oliver Knowles, Ben Stewart, and Will Rose drowned their Brexit sorrows, a simple plan was hatched: why not throw politicians own words back at them?
The idea was to emblazon quotes – like MP Michael Gove’s “The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards, and we can choose the path we want” or Nigel Farage’s “If Brexit is a disaster … I’ll go and live somewhere else” — on huge public billboards. The problem? They had no idea how to do it.
A Led By Donkeys banner CBS News
“The first night we came out and did it, it was a bit of a disaster,” Knowles said. “We didn’t really have the right tools, we didn’t have the paste at the right thickness.”
The billboards were topped off with their now infamous tagline: #LedByDonkeys.
“We feel that by laughing at them, we remove a little bit of their power as well,” Stewart said. “So, we’ve quite enjoyed calling them donkeys.”
But nobody was laughing when their amateur billboards turned into a nationwide phenomenon. As one million people marched in London earlier this year demanding a second referendum on Brexit, Led By Donkeys found themselves hiring helicopters — with the help of crowdfunding — to capture a banner reading “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy,” that would be held aloft by the marchers.
At first, Sadri said, the group wanted to get a drone. But they were told that drones wouldn’t be permitted during the protest. So instead, they got the helicopter, and the banner became a defining moment of the day.
One of Led By Donkeys’ largest productions CBS News
“Yeah, it was singularly the most stressful thing we’ve done,” Knowles said, “because pulling a huge banner like that over a crowd comes with a lot of responsibility — but actually, for me, it gave us one of the greatest returns.”
Now funded by online donations and no longer stealing ad space, the group has revealed their identities — and have upped their game with projections in Brussels and jabs at international visitors about the relative unpopularity of President Trump in the U.K. compared to Barack Obama.
“Suddenly these quotes, these promises, that were made before the referendum became a fundamental part of the debate,” Stewart said. “And I would like to think that’s because we sat here frustrated, printed out a poster, slapped it up on a billboard side with some cheap wallpaper paste.”
The group still has hope for the future. “I think all of us generally are optimists,” Sadri said, “and I don’t feel in my heart of hearts that we are gonna leave the European Union in October.”
And while staying in the EU might be unlikely at this stage, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing to happen in British politics over the past three years.