Public affairs and Brexit – don’t be a Daydreamer!

Whether you were a Leaver, a Remainer, or a Daydream Believer, if you’re in or near public affairs then these are exciting times.

Last weekend, Theresa May made two important announcements.

One: there is to be a Great Repeal Bill (Wikipedia).

Two: she intends to send notification under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that the UK intends to leave the European Union.

Till now many column inches, broadcast minutes and social media characters have been devoted to the views of politicians and commentators. On the latter I strongly recommend David Allen Green, an FT columnist on law and policy, and an insightful and incisive tweeter and blogger.

The setting up of new government departments has given something for public affairs professionals to get their teeth into; both to inform the new secretaries of state and their teams, and to influence.

A Bill gives more. Bills have processes, content and decision makers. Will the Bill start its legislative journey in the Lords or Commons? It matters. What is its Long Title? That matters, too.

What will it say at the start, especially about giving powers to ministers to repeal laws by secondary legislation. What will members of both Houses argue for? Some Bills survive relatively unchanged; others see substantial change even at the last minute. What of the Salisbury Convention (Wikipedia) and the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto (pdf): “We are clear about what we want from Europe. We say: yes to the Single Market.”

I doubt there’s a person, organisation, business or sector that is immune to the effects of leaving the European Union. It will be a matter of scale and of time period.

So, if you can then bone up now on how to have influence in parliament. It’s not all about having contacts and being able to enjoy cosy chats on the terrace. My experience working for MPs and peers is that simple things can make a big difference – such as writing an effective briefing paper, or proposing amendments that are drafted properly and so are acceptable for tabling.

And if you are lobbying then make sure you understand the rules and requirements – both those applying to you and to those you are hoping to influence! I’ve just checked my own entry on the CIPR’s UK Lobbying Register.

There’s a good guide from the perspective of parliamentarians here. If you want real insight, spend some time reading – 300+ pages – what the government side has to consider: “Guide to Making Legislation” (pdf).

The deadline of 31 March 2017 on triggering Article 50 gives a timeline. At that time a clock starts ticking: unless negotiations are complete, or the process is otherwise extended, the UK automatically ceases to be a member of the European Union after two years.

Deadlines force hands. What cards will be played and when? Who is getting the attention of ministers, and when, and why? In playing a card, what evidence is brought forward to support the case?

Remember, none of this is in an isolation chamber. The media will report, scrutinise and interpret. Will MPs see surges at surgeries, not just as particular sectors ramp up campaigns, but as constituency impacts become apparent? Postbags, email inboxes, @-tweets, Facebook comments, will overflow. There will be a lot of noise. How will you be heard?

How will parliamentary politics play out? Your influence might run to just one individual MP, or a handful. Remember, the Government has a tiny majority. Tiny majorities mean parties and even individuals can win favours. Just re-run 1992 to 1997, for a taste of what can happen. MPs defect. By-elections are lost. Others lose the Whip.

I’m a Remainer. I’m personally saddened by the journey the UK is now on. But as someone who has lived and breathed politics for over 25 years – but for 3,434 votes I might even have made it to the Commons! – I see exciting opportunities.

Whether Remainer or Leaver, whatever you do don’t be a Daydreamer. Get your act together quickly!

(And – plug – I’d be happy to help!)

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