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The Big Brexit Debate - Troubling undertones…

Analysing the Brexit debate, as it gets more heated, I detect that a worrying trend is beginning to emerge. It’s the increasing number of people who say that they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision.

It’s worrying because the results of the referendum on June 23rd will mean significant changes to the UK’s influence in the world, its economic prospects and both the financial and defence security of the UK’s current and future generations.

Whether the UK stays in or votes to leave, post June 23rd will not be ‘business as usual’ either in Westminster or across the UK.

So why are both sides of the argument failing to deliver clear effective information that raises the awareness of the implications, good or bad?

The ‘Stay In’ camp led by Downing Street and a carefully chosen host of their global associates, have chosen to warn us about the dire consequences of leaving. They have chosen to focus on scare tactics that range from the potential of World War Three starting in Europe, to economic meltdown based on the need to renegotiate all our trade agreements individually with all other countries. Their focus is not on what staying in would look like – but on the unknown horrors that leaving the EU could wreak on the UK.

Interestingly, this tone and approach neither informs the public on why we should vote to stay in, nor does it sit well for Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne who decided to offer the In/Out vote in the first place.

It begs the question of why a Prime Minister who is now, and presumably was before, aware of the supposed dire dangers of leaving, has taken the country into a situation where the possibility and insecurity of exit have become very real and dangerous.

At best, it smacks of incompetence and naivety and at worst, of a ‘Gung Ho’ take it for granted approach that the ‘Stay In’ side would win. Neither of which characteristics are ones that the British people will want from their political leaders after the vote.

This scare tactic tone of the debate therefore suggests that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne will probably take a big political hit after the referendum, irrespective of the outcome. 

The ‘Leave’ camp have fared no better, some may suggest worse. Their focus is on the dire dangers to employment, housing, schools and the health service from mass migration and terrorism from weak border controls, if we stay in the EU. Again, their focus is not informing the debate, just attempting to detract from the ‘Stay In’ campaign. They are also using scare tactics.

Their position has also put them in the media spotlight as people who fear an influx of migrants. Confusingly, it seems to have become mixed up with Europe’s refugee crisis. There is a definite whiff of phobia about immigration and closed border protectionism and the more Michael Gove and Boris Johnson appear on our screens, unable to answer questions on the detail of what an ‘out’ vote would do for the UK, the more it all seems rather vague and unplanned. Which suggests that after the vote, both of these politicians may also take a hit.

That leaves the great UK public wondering what to do in an absence of proper analysis of the very real issues that we all face. From an ageing population making ever greater demands on health and social care, falling tax revenues to pay for it and other public services, to the desperate need for high quality skilled engineers and the top financial and intellectual minds who can give us an edge in the globalised and highly competitive world in which we all now live.

We want answers that help us understand what staying in or leaving the EU does, not in the short term, but in the longer term for our children and grandchildren? To date, that is certainly not clear.

What is apparent is that we need an effective business plan for the UK to be competitive and productive in this century’s globalised economy. We need someone somewhere to address our needs and we deserve a far higher level of analysis and debate than we are witnessing at the moment.

Unless the ‘In’s’ or ‘Out’s’ quickly change their tone and their approach, there is a danger that the UK will drift into whatever decision it confused electorate are left in on June 23rd .

No matter what the outcome, both sides currently have all to lose politically and need to think hard and quickly about their audience needs.

The first side to do that, change their tone and start communicating and looking like an effective leader, has everything to gain.

Warwick Partington is the lead Reputation & Communication Consultant at the MTM Centre for Leadership and Management Development       

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