The Fog of Brexit

15 December 2016

Last week, I attended one of the many Brexit events that have been organised over recent months. Hosted by a leading law firm, it boasted an impressive and well-informed panel. One of the key discussion points, not surprisingly, was… how do organisations ensure that they understand the debate and the direction that the Brexit negotiations will take and, more importantly, how do they both respond to and influence these?

The speakers were united in their view that at this juncture, with all the uncertainty and absence of any real clarity/consensus from the Government, it is virtually impossible to understand, respond or influence. One of the speakers remarked that all an (affected) organisation can do right now is “have a plan for every scenario”. The fact that the Department for Exiting the European Union is not perceived to be particularly responsive does not help. One of the speakers alluded to the frustration of engaging with it, observing that “information goes up but nothing comes down”. So it is virtually impossible to know whether you have been heard or whether your argument has landed.

While this is unchartered territory, organisations (at least those who are likely to face a significantly altered regulatory landscape), have to ensure that a) they are fully informed about the direction that Brexit negotiations will take and b) that they have the resource to influence and find a voice. Some companies will have to upweight their public affairs capability and effort. In this regard it is interesting to note that a select few companies have initiated searches to upgrade their public affairs resource. One company, a large FTSE in a particularly complex and heavily regulated sector, is seeking to appoint a senior strategic advisor on Brexit who will be expected to provide the CEO and senior leadership team with a clear and thorough analysis of the impact of Brexit negotiations and help position the company favourably for a post-Brexit world.

This is a smart move and executive boards and non-executive boards alike will need to be thinking about this if they are not already. Because business needs to ensure that politicians and civil servants tasked with negotiating Brexit and defining new trading agreements fully understand the implications of the deals they look to strike.

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