“No Deal” – Brexit information baffles the public, inaccessible to 73%* of the UK population

This September, Google reported that the most searched questions in the UK related to Brexit. The public is now looking for clear communication on what the UK’s departure from the EU will mean. And, they are looking to the government to get answers.
Evelyn Wolf
3 min read
Brexit information baffles the public

A common topic discussed is the “No Deal” scenario. Given the critical nature of a potential no deal for the UK economy, the UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union published it’s guidance for “UK government’s preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario”.

VisibleThread wanted to understand the readability of the government’s content. And more importantly, is it transparent?

Analyzing the government’s guidance

The UK government shares information about a “No Deal” scenario on a variety of web pages. For our analysis, we examined this guidance page on a no-deal scenario.

We analyzed the page with VT Writer and found some pretty sobering statistics

73% of the UK population can’t easily read the page

The “No Deal” page tested returned a grade level of 15.2. This is the equivalent of 15 years education or a 3rd level degree (BA, BSc etc.). According to the last England and Wales census, 27% of the population have a 3rd level education or higher. This means the content is hard to read for a whopping 73% of the population.

Slightly easier to read than the Harvard Law Review

We measured readability using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Index. It’s a scale from 0 – 100. 100 is the top mark. To communicate to the majority of the population a score of 60 or more is ideal. A good example of this is the Harry Potter books which score 72.83.

In stark contrast to Harry Potter, the “No Deal” page scores 32. Just two points above the average readability of the Harvard Law Reviews. And more complex than an academic paper on chess.

Increased complexity through long sentences

We also measured the percentage of long sentence use and passive voice. Using sentences longer than 25 words makes them complicated. “No Deal” is already a complex matter. Why make it worse by using wordy communication?  We recommend breaking concepts down into smaller sentences or bullet points.

Passive phrasing makes copy hard to read

Of the 128 sentences in the 3,348-word long page, 60 used passive voice. That’s 46.88% of the time. By changing these instances to active voice the UK government will increase clarity and strength.

Engaging the population

Readers take in 20 – 28% of the words on a website, according to research by the Nielsen Norman Group. When we factor in complex language, we can assume that this percentage shrinks further.

Any government, business or organization that wants to share a message should do so using plain language. The complexity displayed in this “No Deal” example is a case in point. Even people with many years of education will switch off or churn to another page, as they struggle to understand the content.

To engage with the general population, governments must use clear communication. We see plain language initiatives in the Australian, US and Canadian government. Indeed, the UK government has also pursued a plain language initiative.

Unfortunately, the authors of these guidance papers seem to not be aware or perhaps don’t care about making their communications transparent.


  • The outcome of Brexit is critical to the economic health of the UK
  • Unfortunately, readability analysis shows the Department for Exiting the European Union is not making content around a no-deal scenario accessible to 73% of the population.
  • Brexit will affect the entire population. Not just the 27% with a 3rd level education.
  • Government and commercial organizations must review their content for complexity using simple, automated and objective tools like VisibleThread.

*The 2011 Census for England and Wales shares the latest education data. It outlines that 27% of the population have a 3rd level or higher education. Our research shows that to read the analyzed “No Deal” guide 15+ years of education are needed. The conclusion is therefore that 73% of the population will find the guide inaccessible.


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