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What does Brexit mean for public affairs?

Now that the process of leaving the European Union is underway, public affairs needs to be aware of the implications. Outside of the possible political and constitutional ramifications, public affairs life will never be the same again.Clients, whether they be internal or external, now have to realise that Brexit will happen. Challenges will come thick and fast with preparation featuring heavily as the actual exit looms larger. For those that have so far put off preparation, the day for some decisions just moved a little closer.

Anyone who claims to know exactly what will happen at the negotiations is spinning a line. Much more important are the preparations and knowing how to manage the political, as well as wider, risks for any organisations.

So here are five thoughts on what public affairs needs to consider:

  1. Silence – the UK Government does not want to give a running commentary on the negotiations but others, for instance across Europe, might. So listening to Brussels and the European Member States will be at least as important, if not more so, than listening to London.
  2. Parliament – it will have huge amounts of legislation, both primary and secondary, to deal with. That will mean there is less time to deal with other critical issues. Other policies and potential legislation may be squeezed. Similarly, civil servants will have less capacity to deal with other matters. Brexit will be the only show in town. There will also be a number of MPs who will look to ensure that Parliament remains relevant during the negotiations themselves and in the decisions around the final deal as well.
  3. Devolution – if the Brexit decision was all about taking back control, then the pressure will be for that not to rest solely with Westminster. Instead, public affairs will have to get used to the idea that there will be further challenges to the power of Westminster from across cities and member countries of the UK as well.
  4. Dialogue – Ministers are promising more engagement and really want to hear from business. Any failure to take up the Government’s offer would be failing to minimise risk especially when you consider that competitors may well be taking up the offer. There may not be wholly ‘sectoral’ or ‘business’ answers to some of the negotiations and you could lose out if your voice is not heard.
  5. Brussels – will not disappear at the end of negotiations. That means many organisations will need to consider what the shape of their engagement with Brussels looks like post-exit. The tactics around how to make that engagement as effective as possible may involve considering what the shape of dialogue with UK Ministers is during negotiations.
All this also ignores the potential number of ex-politicians who will be looking for jobs in public affairs. There will be a number of former MEPs looking to the sector for roles. It will also make other political jobs just that little bit more difficult to secure as potential re-treads look to get back into positions of power and representation.Politics is at the heart of Brexit. That means Public Affairs is at the heart of Brexit.

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Stuart Thomson

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist at Bircham Dyson Bell LLP advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has worked on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including 'New Activism and the Corporate Response', 'Public Affairs in Practice' (for the CIPR) and 'The Dictionary of Labour Quotations' (published by Britain's leading political publisher, Biteback). 'New Activism and the Corporate Response' was called a book that "every aspiring business leader should read" by MIS Asia. Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues. Stuart recently released a book published by Urbane Publications, 'Public Affairs: News, Views and Hullabaloos' based on his blog. He is also a CIPR trainer and was shortlisted for the 2014 Director of the Year award by the IoD and CIPR.

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