213: The post Brexit future is all about engagement
A joint blog with Kajsa Stenstrom, Managing Partner at Stenstrom Consulting, a leading independent Brussels public affairs consultancy
With key decisions about Brexit looming, many have focused on the personalities and political implications. They should instead be thinking about their future communications and political engagement. UK organisations need to think about Brussels and EU organisations need to think about Westminster.
In the general vacuum that has been the Brexit negotiation process, the media has had to fill the gap with politicians on all sides only too willing to provide comment. The Government has now at least published its White Paper on the future relationship with the EU but that is far from the last word. Politicians and commentators will pour over the document, and the EU negotiators have still to have their say.
But critically Brexit will mean more political engagement in Westminster and Brussels, not less.
For UK organisations, Brussels will still be vitally important. Engagement will have to increase because whatever the final nature of the Brexit deal, there will be areas of legislation and regulation that they will be impacted by and, hence, have views on. Yes, the UK may be able to vary its own national rules but it is highly likely that we will converge to European rules over which the UK has no direct say or input. So the positions of UK businesses and others will need to be stated and heard.
It will be up to UK businesses to engage and lobby in Brussels as well as in the Member States if they are to have any sway. If it is anything to go by, it is a well known fact that Norwegian associations and regional representations spend a great deal of effort and resources on their Brussels representation and lobbying activities. Engagement for UK interests, in this scenario, just got a lot more complicated and a lot more important. There is no guarantee that the UK government, or civil servants, will have either the inclination or the resources to undertake such detailed engagement. For many UK businesses their international alliances, trade body membership and the development of alliances will become a more important part of their operations. To complicate things further, some of these trade body memberships will be called into question as UK companies will, in some instances, be stripped of certain rights; they will have to revert to a mere observer membership rather than full membership.
There could also, for UK-based business, be the potential issue of having to comply with two different sets of regulations (domestic vs EU), choosing to simply adopt the highest standards or not sell into certain markets, presumably the ones with higher regulatory requirements. This approach is more complicated, risky and costly.
But there will be new ways of engaging as well. A UK firm simply making its voice heard in the classical way is likely to be ignored or, even worse, treated as an arrogant attempt to have our cake and eat it… So there will have to be new strategies for UK organisations. It will be a steep learning curve when attitudes and processes will have changed. It will be a new Brussels environment.
But EU-based organisations also need to think about what they are doing as well. In a future UK securing trade deals and actively seeking inward investment, EU based firms could face a very different trading environment. For those with operations already in the UK engagement may be more familiar but for potential new entrants they are going to have to work directly with Westminster and Whitehall. The Brussels channel will no longer work the way it has done.
There could well be new relationships with the devolved countries as well as they alter their roles and relationships, not just with Westminster but with Brussels as well.
Under the current working arrangements in Westminster and Brussels, organisations can engage through working groups, trade bodies, representative and membership organisations, and directly themselves. Post-Brexit, organisations will need to think afresh about their relationships, the channels they work through and the messages they deliver.
It is no exaggeration to say that Brexit will change everything. Whilst the new arrangements have still to be worked out, change is the only thing that is certain. Organisations need to start planning now for how they deal with Westminster and Brussels, and how they manage potentially conflicting audiences.