By Tim Snowball, Head of Political Strategy
While the consequences of the British public’s momentous decision to leave the European Union are still largely unknown, it is certain that there will be far reaching consequences for large and small businesses operating up and down the county.
Despite everyone from Angela Merkel to Jean Claude Juncker making it clear that they will not enter negotiations with Britain until Article 50 has been triggered, Theresa May seems to be in no rush to start the leaving process. In many ways this is sensible, allowing time for Britain to plan, recruit a negotiating team, start exploring trade negotiations with other nations, and making it less of a bargaining chip in the French and German elections, but it does mean that many businesses feel that they are in limbo.
Traditionally, many businesses, particularly smaller businesses, prefer to wait and see, and adapt to political change. But with Brexit, this approach is unlikely to serve them well. The deal we get will go on to determine the relationship we have with the rest of the world and will have a profound effect on Britain’s economy going forward. It is therefore essential that all businesses across the UK regardless of their size should take a proactive approach to public affairs to ensure that they are protected from upcoming risks, and make sure their needs are being heard by those who will be negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. It is worth remembering that even if your organisation isn’t using public affairs, your competitors almost certainly are.
So what can proactive public affairs do to help your business through the Brexit process?
- Making Sense of Brexit
For many, Britain’s decision to leave the EU came as a total shock – as evidenced by the highs and lows of the FTSE 100 on the night of the 23rd June – and many businesses felt unprepared. However it is now essential that you fully understand what the process is for leaving the EU, and how it might impact upon your business. Furthermore, a good public affairs team can continually feed you the latest intelligence from Westminster – providing you with an early warning system, but also the ability to exploit any favourable opportunities that come along. Not doing so leaves your business at risk of being unprepared for major changes, and at a disadvantage to your competitors.
Unless you speak up for your business, no-one else will. Every business will be affected by Brexit in some way, which could include everything from implications on trade, changes to employment law, or the impact on the economy. It is essential that you decide what your business needs from any deal that the government negotiates, and that you make sure that all the key stakeholders know what it is that you want, but also what the consequences could be if it doesn’t happen. Your public affairs team can help you hone the messages you need to give, and identify your key stakeholders.
- Seizing Opportunities
Despite the tumultuous period ahead, it isn’t all bad news. Whilst the UK government looks at ways to untangle EU laws from our own, it is likely that Brexit will throw up a host of opportunities that could help your business grow and operate more easily in the future. Is there a particular regulation that you feel is limiting your business, or an EU mandated tax which is particularly regressive?
There has never been a better time to seize the moment and put forward the case for scrapping it. Your public affairs team can advise you on the best way to go about this, whether it is a public campaign, a campaign fought with relevant trade associations or a softer campaign to influence stakeholders.
- Remember the EU
We might be leaving the EU but for many business owners, it is likely that you will continue to operate in, and do business with EU countries. Notably, one potential outcome of Brexit is that Britain continues to have access to the single market on the proviso that we conform to all associated rules – without the British Government having any say over them. For this reason, it is important that your public affairs strategy doesn’t ignore the EU or the individual governments in relevant EU countries.
Negotiating Britain’s exit and the deal we get doesn’t just affect Britain – the UK is the EU’s largest single export market, so it is important for businesses to be influencing both sides of the negotiating table to make sure that the deal we get works for both EU countries and Britain.
- Business as usual
Although it may not seem like it, Theresa May’s new Government does have legislative priorities outside Brexit. Recent announcements on social justice, grammar schools, Hinkley Point and a U turn on prison reforms show that this is a government determined to make its mark. It is important that your public affairs team let you know what is on the horizon so that you are pre-warned of anything in the UK’s domestic policy that might affect your business. A strong public affairs team will also look for, and create, relevant opportunities to influence policy and raise your reputation within Westminster. Having a presence in Westminster should always be a priority, regardless of what is happening in Brussels.