Business lobbyists guilty of negligence in Battle of Brexit

Insight

J’accuse.

In the dock: British business.

The crime: failure to resist Brexit.

Summary of the prosecution’s case.

Two years ago, the British people voted to leave the European Union. Two years on, many have changed their minds and Britain’s politicians have failed to come to grips with the issues that matter.

The Conservative government is divided on how to proceed, with pro-Union ministers outgunned by Brexiteers, including Chief Brexiteer Boris Johnson saying “f*** business” when told of their concerns over leaving the Union.

But this case is against those who represent British businesses.

Investment in the UK is lower than for any other major economy. Our skill base is so weak that dependence on European immigrants has become chronic. And we have no idea how trading relations with Europe will work.

You might think Britain’s business leaders would have made a fuss. A bloody great fuss, indeed, campaigning ceaselessly to show their workers – just  about everyone in the country between 18 and 65 – and their shareholders that they will bring all their powers to bear on stopping this runaway omnishambles from hitting the buffers. You’d be wrong.

Last weekend, the leaders of five lobby groups, including the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses emerged from their shells to talk to the Sunday Times.

The paper duly reported “two years on from the referendum the leaders of the five lobby groups have joined forces to warn ...” etc.   The writers of the article suggested the lobbyists were “treading a fine line by going public with their grievances... but finally their frustration bubbled over.”  According to one of the five luminaries: “the feeling at the moment is we are running out of time”. No s**t, Sherlock?

In one full-page interview, the pusillanimous spokesmen demonstrated their collective lack of imagination about what was needed from them, and needed many months ago.

It is nothing less than a scandal that these organisations did not stand up in front of the British people to lay out the issues threatening jobs and the wider economy, did not press their case for staying in the Union – and keep pressing it so that their stakeholders –all of us – knew what we were letting ourselves in for.

The biggest economic decision of all time needed the biggest public response of all time, but all they have done is scratch away among themselves and a few weary politicians. With a breath-taking lack of imagination, they have failed both their client businesses and the British people. They have failed at the first jump in public relations strategy – define your audience.

The case against British business ends on the matter of money. The only serious financial backer of the Remain campaign was billionaire George Soros – who made a fortune shorting sterling – who put in about £450,000.  Faced with a potential bill of hundreds of millions for an indeterminate period, you would think business collectively would have agreed that spending a few millions to change the mind of the British public would be the best investment they could ever make. At worst, it could be billed under insurance.

One more thing. What have the leaders of the UK PR industry been doing all this time?

Why haven’t they persuaded their masters to get their lobbyists to build a case for the public?

It was an ill-conceived referendum that allowed the public to make a decision on something they didn’t understand. Now that they do, they deserve the chance to change their mind.


Footnote:

The British press – owned by people like Viscount Rothermere (Daily Mail), Rupert Murdoch, (The Times, The Sun, Sky News), Richard Desmond (Daily Express - though recently sold) and the Barclay brothers (Daily Telegraph), who all enjoy tremendous, border-free investment privileges – has beat a steady drum of hatred for the EU.