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149: Five ways public affairs can help now Brexit is happening

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149: Five ways public affairs can help now Brexit is happening
Leave your thoughts Stuart Thomson

By Stuart Thomson

Now the realisation that Brexit is actually happening has sunk in for most people, it is time to get on with the business of doing business. Whilst uncertainty remains, public affairs can help organisations manage some of the risk involved and ensure that their voices are heard during the months ahead as the post-Brexit world emerges.

What is clear from Boris Johnson’s article in the Daily Telegraph or Sarah Vine’s (the wife of Michael Gove) appeal for the help of experts on a Facebook post, is that no-one really knows what the post-Brexit world really looks like, let alone the leaders of the campaign. The UK has voted us ‘out’ of the EU but what this really means, the process etc. are all unclear – both here and in Brussels as well.

So what can public affairs do to help?

  1. Put pressure on the Government for immediate clarity – there are some issues that the Government can decide here and now if the UK economy is not going to grind to a halt. For instance, there are a number of EU regulations that we have already signed up to but have not yet come into effect. Will they? A new unit has been set up in the Cabinet Office to start work on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
  2. What do you need? – do not leave it up to the Government to decide what it is you need and want. Unless you advocate for yourself then no-one will. There is no doubt that a void will lead to adverse or intended consequences. That could mean working alongside others through trade bodies as well.This means being clear on what works for you. Are there laws and regulations that should remain in place? Ones that should be removed that inflict costs? If you do not know then Government certainly will not.
  3. Think ahead – start to plan now what public affairs support you will need across individual Member States and also in Brussels as well. Brussels is not going anywhere and it may be that engagement is still required even if the power to affect change has been removed. That means you will need local support in each jurisdiction.Depending on the final nature of the UK’s agreement with the EU, it could be that we, in effect, need to comply with new rules but have no say over them. If that is the case, then your engagement needs to continue. You may need to continue to engage with Brussels more under those circumstances than you do now. Your information and insight will need to be better.
  4. Be aware that your competitors are international – any ideas that the negotiations will be balanced need to be put to one side. This is not a suggestion that the EU will want to do down the UK (although they may do to prevent other countries from seeing the Exit door as attractive) but a realisation that what you say and demand needs to be in the context of what others want as well. The UK is not the only country that wants something from this process. This means you knowing and understanding your markets and critically the politics there as well. You need to be able to respond to them and their issues.
  5. Don’t forget Westminster politics – there is no doubt that Europe will dominate. Civil servants will need to unpick agreements but with a new Prime Minister by October and possibly a new Labour leader (a crisis that is still emerging as I write), there is a need to engage on a number of policy fronts. New leaders want new programmes and new ideas.

There will be an increasing importance of Parliament in the new post-Brexit world. Not only will there be a need to understand how existing legislation needs to be changed but also what new legislation may be required and any amendments that need to be drafted. So for public affairs that means being able to call on a particular set of parliamentary skills as well.

As well as these public affairs issues, there are also all sorts of other forms of communication that are required – internal and external. But political engagement and the need for ideas has arguably never been more important than now.

27 June 2016

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