Another fine mess - the post Brexit clear up

As Oliver Hardy would say as he slowly turned to Stan Laurel with a resigned look on his face: "Well that's another fine mess you've gotten us into." As always, Stanley would acknowledge the blame rests with him, although (in a childlike way) kind of protesting that he couldn't foresee the likely outcome of what he was doing to cause the 'mess'.

That seems to sum up the general sentiment in the country, following the EU referendum. Remain voters are looking dumbfounded at Leave voters and thinking or saying exactly what Oliver Hardy would say. Many Leave voters are scratching their heads like Stan - they really didn't expect to win. It's all come as a bit of a shock. Shoulder shrugging time. It's a kind of 'what do we do now?' scenario.

Some politicians are pretending that they've got a plan in place and 'they're getting on with the job'. Or, as we might put it: 'making it up as they go along'.

Teresa May, the recently appointed PM, says that 'Brexit' means 'Brexit'.

Good. Except just what does Brexit really mean? What were people actually voting for? What does a post Brexit Britain look like? Nobody told us in advance, nobody's telling us now. Because they don't know. Of course we can all have our two pennyworth and have a guess, but the bald fact is that nobody knows.

So why did people vote for it? To take back control? To spend the '£350 million we pay to the EU every week' on the NHS instead? These were the two most prominent soundbite slogans repeatedly trotted out by the Leave campaigners. The £350 million 'promise' has quickly been disowned by nearly everyone on the Leave side. So, if you were swayed by that argument, hard luck. That means we're left with taking back control.

So why haven't we already done this? Just taken back control. It sounds easy.

For some reason, there is a delay, because we want to get a 'good deal' with the EU. That's the sticking point. Nobody mentioned this during the campaigning, to the effect that if we vote Leave, we won't actually leave straight away, we'll need to negotiate our way out.

It sounds a bit like a hostage trying to sweet talk their captors.

We've just voted to get out, now we're waiting to negotiate to get a good deal. But are we likely to get one?

There is a saying that you can't have your cake and eat it. And this applies to the UK leaving the EU and trying to get a good trade deal.

Put yourself in their shoes. Would you really let us cherry pick the best that the EU has to offer (free trade), without making us contribute something in return, either financial or in terms of the free movement of people or by agreeing to EU regulations or a combination of all three? Is it possible that the EU will give us a better deal being out of the EU, able to pick and choose which bits of the EU we go along with, than we could achieve if we remained part of the EU? Driven by the need to do what's best for their own citizens (and the EU as a whole), what would you do?

Yes, they may want to trade with us, but not at the expense of making it more attractive to be 'out' of the EU than be a fully paid up member. Unless we are really so special as a nation that we can demand such special status. It's akin to an anchor store in a shopping mall getting access to the thousands of customers who visit the mall but at preferential rental rates, because they are part of the attraction for shoppers. Except in the EU, it's the other stores that set the rents, not an independent developer.

In this scenario, would the people of France not demand similar terms? And what about Germany? Maybe also Italy, Spain and The Netherlands.

It's simply not going to happen without the EU breaking apart. Which is, of course, what some Leave campaigners want. Back to the way it was.

At this point, it's worth considering the question: Was it really that good before we joined the EU in 1973?

By the early 1970s we were well on our way to becoming 'the sick man of Europe'. We were on course for three day weeks, rampant inflation and industrial action on an industrial scale.

It was a mess. A fine mess.

But, you know what? We came through it. Just as we'll come through this.

Nobody knows what it will look like on the other side or how prosperous we'll be compared to what we would have been.

However, in the short term there will be uncertainty. This will result in people and businesses holding back on making decisions, particularly in terms of making investments.

The 'if in doubt, do nowt' school of thought always comes to the fore in these situations.

This will further stall the economic recovery, something that was happening even in the run up to the referendum.

How bad this is and how long it lasts depends on when business gets its confidence back.

So the recession, from which many people and businesses had still not fully recovered, will continue for some time yet.

At the height of the recession, people were talking about a lost decade. It now seems we can add a few more years to that.

And it was all so unnecessary. Was it really so pressing to have a referendum at this time?

The reason we are where we are is because of people wanting personal success at the expense of risking the country's prosperity.

David Cameron for calling the referendum in the first place in a attempt to quieten the Eurosceptics in the Conservative party, because they could have caused ructions within the ranks if they had not been promised a vote (yes, he thought he would win, but he didn't). And Boris Johnson, who saw an opportunity to put himself in the limelight as an effective campaigner and vote winner. Not many people really believe he thought he could actually win (including, you suspect, himself).

They rolled the dice. Now we'll find out what the risk will cost, certainly in the short term.

But if the downside of the referendum result was all so obvious, as this blog maintains, why did the majority of people who voted, vote to leave?

Good question.

In some part they didn't believe the warnings of 'Project Fear' (another effective soundbite from Boris and Co.)

And, it has to be said, the Remain campaign was pretty poor. Maybe because the only 'positive' message they could rely on was: 'vote Remain and you'll continue to get what you're getting', which was never going to be a great vote swinger. So they relied heavily on scare tactics, which the public just didn't believe, encouraged in their beliefs by Boris and others.

The Remain approach may have alienated some people to the extent that they voted Leave, because they didn't like the negative campaign. Other people thought that they were so badly off that nothing could be worse. While others were just expressing a protest, not really believing that their vote would help to deliver the result we got. And, of course, some people hate the idea of the EU with a passion.

Whatever people voted, we are not witnessing mass celebrations at the outcome. On the whole, the mood seems to be either (still) anger from some Remain voters or one of quite reflection over the vote and what it might really mean as things play out.

There certainly hasn't been a sudden flash and everything that was wrong has suddenly been put right.

We carry on, but with the prospect of trying to negotiate our way out of the EU in a way that is going to minimise the economic damage that an exit will entail.

Will we then have full control of our destiny? No, we operate in a global economy and that economy impacts on our trade and prosperity. We will also have to 'give up' some of our freedoms as a result of the negotiations with the EU.

Will we have control of our borders? Maybe, depending on how those negotiations go. But even then, as we have seen over the past few years, we still allow tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of non-EU citizens to settle in the UK from overseas. Some works as doctors, some as nurses, some as care workers, many are in other types of work. Some don't work. Some are on benefits. Some bring much needed skills, others don't. Like much in the world, things aren't black and white. There are a lot of grey areas.

That was the problem with the referendum.

Leaving the EU isn't a simple yes or no, as you might answer the question: 'Do you like cauliflower?'

It's complex and complicated and has an impact far, far greater and one that is irreversible.

But the question was presented in a simplistic way.

In PR terms though, for the Leave campaign it was textbook.

Know your audience. Speak to them in a way they can relate to and in a way they understand. Keep your messages simple and consistent. Tell the truth.

(Well apart from that last bit).

So as we start to move forwards, I can't help but think that we'd have been better off having Laurel and Hardy running the country.

Of course they would get us into another fine mess.

But at least they'd be funny.

Categories: Opinion PR