Brexit and communication failures


As Britain goes from toxic to mystified and ashamed to bewildered, a depressing survey has revealed an underlying problem of the Brexit debacle – something communication types probably suspected long ago.

That is, the public would support Theresa May’s proposed deal with the European Union if only it had been presented clearly and persuasively. It seems the public doesn’t actually know what this “deal” said.

In other words, the last several months have been wasted because of a massive failure in communication.

Arguably, the whole thing – the decision to have a referendum in 2016 and the outcome – was also the result of poor communication. In fact, this failure goes back over decades and should be laid at the door of the European Commission (the civil servants in Brussels) rather than the Council of Europe (the politicians).

The British media has had it in for the European project since 1973, when the UK joined the Common Market. It was no secret the owners of the main newspapers based their tax affairs and their homes offshore. Their editors knew which side their (European) butter was on, as New Zealand dairy farmers were to discover.

Every fault and failure emanating from the Continent was mocked, policies were ridiculed with distorted labels and after 40 years of this, the British public were conditioned to see Europe through a prism of greed, stupidity and pomposity.

Excess butter supplies were called “butter mountains” and excess wine became “wine lakes”. The most important legislation one year was alleged to be a Euro law in favour of “straight bananas” – manufactured nonsense still referenced by Leavers.

The truth is, Britain benefited hugely from payments to Brussels, but the public rarely heard about it.

So what happened? The biggest beneficiary of Euro handouts was south Wales, which voted to leave! Westminster politicians laid any bad economic news from Wales at the door of Brussels – a regular sleight of hand: bad things Brussels, good things British government.

I admit my own failure to do anything about this. Representing several thousand consultancies through ICCO (the world body for our business) I tried to persuade the EU’s head of communications to divert hundreds of millions of advertising dollars to a public information campaign pointing out the benefits across the now 28 member countries.

He showed no interest in what our industry could do and wasn’t the slightest bit interested in learning why his organisation was treated with contempt by the UK media and public.

As you must do when you lose a pitch, you blame yourself first. In his case I made an exception.