EU Referendum

Who's up, who's down: How referendum key players did

As the UK votes to leave the European Union, the BBC takes a look at how the key figures on each side of the UK's EU referendum performed.


Boris Johnson

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Vote Leave's big signing - made as the transfer deadline loomed - was a predictable hit with the home fans, showing he had lost none of his sparkle in front of goal. There were blunders, such as his public spat with Barack Obama after he made a dig at the US president's "part-Kenyan" ancestry, and comparing the EU to Hitler, which led some to question his judgement. But as with so many things he has done over the years - such as getting stuck on a zipwire ahead of the Olympics - none of it seemed to harm his public appeal. As a dry run for a Tory leadership contest things could have gone better for the former London mayor, but he ended the campaign as the star Leave performer in the big TV debates and there's no arguing with the result, which leaves him as bookmakers' favourite to succeed David Cameron as UK prime minister.

Michael Gove

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Vote Leave's other star striker - the cerebral, mild-mannered Michael Gove - coped relatively well with being thrust on to the big stage of the TV debates, even revealing a little of his personal back story to ginger up the dry economic arguments. A late excursion into Hitler analogy territory - comparing Remain's experts to Nazi sympathisers - was probably not his finest hour, however. He generally avoided the blue-on-blue aggro that Boris Johnson attracted, and was always courteous about the PM. After the Leave side won he is widely seen as well placed to get one of - or the - top job in the Conservative Party.

Nigel Farage

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There was plenty of fun - boozy antics on the battle bus and a bizarre clash with Bob Geldof on the Thames - and the usual dollop of controversy, with his "Breaking Point" refugee poster. The UKIP leader also did well enough in a TV special with David Cameron. But Vote Leave's unsubtle attempts to sideline Nigel Farage took the shine off what should have been his finest hour. Members of both official campaigns - and the Archbishop of Canterbury - attacked him over his immigration focus - but that may well have added to his appeal among voters and certainly helped keep the issue at the forefront of many voters' minds.

Andrea Leadsom

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A little-known junior minister who looked as though she had been drafted in to play a supporting role to Boris Johnson in the big ITV debate - her job was to hit back at the attacks on Mr Johnson from Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the all-female Remain panel while he laughed them off . Andrea Leadsom gave such a good account of herself she was back centre stage for the BBC's big Wembley debate. She may still be unknown to many voters, but her calm and rational explanation of the economic case - for as a former banker she knows her stuff - made her a valuable addition to the Leave team and promotion seems to be on the cards.

Gisela Stuart

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As one of a handful of Labour MPs to back Vote Leave, Gisela Stuart was always going to be kept busy, but even she might have been surprised by how much of a high profile she had during the campaign. Often given equal billing with household names like Boris Johnson, with whom she struck up an unlikely battle bus partnership, the previously relatively obscure German-born backbencher came across as thoughtful and measured, a useful counterpoint to Johnson's bluster in the two TV debates she took part in with him and Andrea Leadsom.

Chris Grayling

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For a man who was straining to be let off the leash ahead of the campaign, Chris Grayling had a surprisingly low-key, restrained referendum, largely refraining from "blue-on-blue" attacks. He was also one of the few Vote Leave spokesmen to share a platform with Nigel Farage. The Commons leader was not picked much when it came to the big set piece media events, however.

Priti Patel

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Much-hyped ahead of the campaign, the referendum was seen as a chance for the long-time Eurosceptic to shake off her somewhat "robotic" image and stake a claim for a big job in the party in the future. Ms Patel started as the most high profile female campaigner on the Leave side and - true to form - never strayed off message, although she may have upset some government colleagues by blaming the shortage of primary school places on immigration. She was on the back-up panel for the big BBC debate, which had Leadsom and Stuart on the main stage.

Iain Duncan Smith

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He was as mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it any more. Iain Duncan Smith set new standards in "blue-on-blue" conflict as he stormed out of the cabinet - ostensibly over Budget benefit cuts - and let David Cameron and George Osborne have it right between the eyes. A died-in-the-wool Eurosceptic from way back he seized his moment with the zeal of a man who had no career left to lose, even if he was largely kept out of the main action by cautious Vote Leave managers.

Penny Mordaunt

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Another rising Conservative star who gambled her future career prospects on a Leave victory, Penny Mordaunt succeeded in raising her profile without upsetting the PM too much, even when she appeared on the same platform as him (minutes before he took to it) at a Buzzfeed/Facebook debate.


David Cameron

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The prime minister certainly led from the front, even if his refusal to go head-to-head with Leave opponents on TV created a new definition of the word "debate". He gave typically polished performances when fielding questions from the public but his entreaties to Remain in the EU began to take on an increasingly desperate feel as polling day approached. With four days to go, he admitted in a BBC Question Time debate that the public were "confused" by the EU debate and that he needed to do more to convince them. An appeal to the public in Downing Street suggested he knew his career was riding on the outcome of the vote. Within a couple of hours of the result being declared, he was announcing his resignation.

Jeremy Corbyn

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Seen as a reluctant Remainer, the Labour leader entered the fray relatively late with a heavily-caveated endorsement of Britain's continued membership. His typically frank admission that migration could not be controlled if Britain remained in the EU was a gift to the Leave campaign. His refusal to share a platform with David Cameron will have gone down well with some Labour voters and his lack of love for the EU may have been in tune with how many felt but it left a bit of a hole at the heart of the Labour In campaign. It remains to be seen what the wider Labour Party thought of his campaigning efforts, but it's fair to say that many of the party's MPs - admittedly never fans of his - were less than impressed.

George Osborne

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The chancellor - who it is said was very much against the idea of a referendum in the first place - majored in dire warnings of the economic consequences of Brexit, which got the backs up of Brexit-backing Conservative MPs, further damaging his dwindling hopes of succeeding David Cameron. Arguably the final straw, for many, was his proposed "emergency" Brexit Budget, with its £30bn of spending cuts and tax rises, which backfired horribly when Tory MPs said they would vote it down. Winning the referendum would have been his justification. Losing it means that he has gone from one of the favourites to one of the rank outsiders to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader.

Theresa May

Theresa May insisted in an interview with the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg that she had not been "quiet" during the campaign, but she had a much lower profile than any of the other Remain supporters in the Cabinet. She caused a brief ripple when she suggested EU free movement rules should be revised but that was about it. Before the campaign she had been tipped by some to back Brexit. She didn't, but her low profile meant she avoided overly alienating Leave Conservatives and it leaves her as the Remainer seen as having the best chance of becoming Conservative leader.

Sadiq Khan

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The new London mayor had a good campaign, managing to share a platform with both Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron - and taking the fight to his Tory predecessor Boris Johnson in the BBC's Great Debate at Wembley, an occasion when most of the UK saw him in action for the first time. No longer an MP, Sadiq Khan can't stand for the Labour leadership but he has emerged as a big figure in the party, offering an alternative to the direction Jeremy Corbyn is trying to lead the party.

Nicola Sturgeon

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Scotland's First Minister gave a typically polished and professional performance in the main ITV debate, although she surprised some with personal attacks on Boris Johnson, and the issue of when she would push for a second Scottish independence referendum hung over the SNP's campaign. Not as central a figure as during the election - partly a result of the consensus for Remain among the main leaders in Scotland, perhaps - but Remain won in Scotland and she says that a second independence referendum is on the table given that the country now looks set to be taken out of the EU against its will.

Ruth Davidson

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The closest thing to a breakout star during the referendum campaign, the Scottish Tory leader showed why many had seen her as a dark horse contender for Tory leadership with her fluent and passionate advocacy of Britain's EU membership in the BBC's Great Debate at Wembley. It will be interesting to see how she recovers from being on the losing side of the argument.

Sir John Major

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Sir John Major was the mouse that roared - the "grey man" of British politics launched the most vicious attack of the campaign in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, branding Boris Johnson a "court jester," attacking Leave campaign "lies" and suggesting the NHS was as safe with them as a "a pet hamster would be with a hungry python". Oh yes.

Lord Rose

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The former Marks and Spencer boss was nominally the captain of the Remain team but he was sent for an early bath following a string of blunders, including forgetting the name of the campaign in a live TV interview, appearing to suggest that being in the EU cost more than it was worth and, most damagingly, that if Brexit led to higher wages it would necessarily be a good thing.

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