Stuart Thomson: Why Brexit will fail without lobbying
The process of leaving the EU is too important to be left to the politicians!
The image of Theresa May sitting in the bunker of No 10 with her close advisers surrounded by piles of papers working on a solution to Brexit is being allowed to take root. But if the Government is going to make a success of Brexit then good lobbying has a valuable role to play.
Much of the focus has been on helping businesses, in particular, to understand the consequences of Brexit and to prepare themselves. That is all very valuable but misses out one of the most important considerations. What these organisations want and need from Brexit has to be communicated to Government. Misunderstandings, misinformation and misgivings can all otherwise appear.
The leaked ‘memo’ to the Times may not have been recognised by Government but it did chime with officials. The Government has talked about engagement through the whole Brexit process but details are, as with many other aspects, lacking. Business needs to be talking to government about such matters now and make the running.
This isn’t just about business engagement, although a lot of the eventual success will be done to the economic deal that is secured. The lobbying and engagement needs to come from the whole range of organisations – universities, charities, trade unions and beyond.
Just think about come of the complexities:
There aren’t enough people in Government – the civil service have faced cuts and many departments, especially the newly created ones, face uncertain budgets. This is impacting on their ability to get teams together drawing on other departments and, at least in part, explains why there has been a reliance on external support.
The need for evidence – each department is having to draw together evidence and advice that can be delivered especially to David Davis’ department. This is not though an excise in joined-up government. Territories are being protected and organisations are openly being told to ‘talk to everyone’. This has huge resource implications.
Organisations have access to real time information, from across markets, customers and employees.This is all valuable as far as Government is concerned and does not suffer from the lag involved in official statistics.
Providing unity – if the Government is to enjoy a strong negotiating position then it needs unity of purpose. The position may change by the end of March when Article 50 is due to be triggered but as things stand, there are a range of Government Ministers all providing their ideas through the media as to what they think Brexit looks like with Boris delivering one-liners that are upsetting many. The more that Mrs May is seen not to be able to control her Cabinet and the more potentially conflicting ideas are circulating, the weaker the negotiating position will be. Organisations can help cut across this political noise and help cement the Government’s position.
The selling process – when it comes to final deal, the Government needs to sell it the people otherwise their (re)election will be jeopardised. That means the Prime Minister will need to stand on stages besides key people and explain the deal and its benefits. Heaven forbid if any compromises have had to be made but these will need to be detailed as well. If we did live in an era of ‘post-truth’ then the selling will be even more important than ever. If organisations have been excluded, or have excluded themselves, from the whole Brexit process then there is very little way they will help sell the deal. Why should they? What is the upside for them?
Simply choosing to deal with the consequences of the outcomes of Brexit is the wrong way to look at the problem. Organisations need to take steps to manage risk and even those who support Brexit recognise that there is risk.
For those working in public affairs, we need to help clients and / or colleagues through all this complexity and to make the most of the opportunities, head off the threats and ensure that their voice is heard.
Without these ideas and input, the Government could end up focusing too much on the politics of Brexit.
Stuart Thomson is head of public affairs at Bircham Dyson Bell. His latest book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ is available now - and PAN has arranged for an exclusive 50% discount for readers. Just go to https://urbanepublications.com/books/public-affairs-2 and then enter the promo code ‘public’ on the checkout page.