Brexit and 20:20 Vision

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A lot of the articles at the end of 2017 asked what the UK’s role should be following Brexit.  Some see Brexit as the next stage in the UK’s loss of international influence; others see scope for a new role, resetting relationships with the US, other European countries/the EU and countries further afield.  There have been suggestions about the role the Foreign & Commonwealth Office can play in representing the UK’s interests overseas and how the arts, universities and even football can be key components of a soft-power toolkit.

These are all outward-looking initiatives.  How the UK presents itself to the world and keeps and deepens its friendships and influence will be important following Brexit.  But there also needs to be a clear vision of what post-Brexit UK will be like for the people who live here.

That clear vision is something the UK must decide for itself; in other words, it’s an internal matter.  I’m not encouraging excessive navel-gazing here.  It’s rather that the UK needs to decide what type of country it wants to be – for its citizens, not just in what’s presented to the rest of the world.  That approach – that vision – should be one a majority of citizens can sign up to and shouldn’t offend minorities to a point one or more will seek to overthrow it by constitutional or other means.

Secondly, it’s pretty much inevitable that there will be conflicting messages to the rest of the world unless there’s a broad consensus within the UK about what the country stands for after Brexit.  The current government doesn’t always appear to be singing from the same song sheet on the subject so it’s safe to assume that a miscellany of football teams, universities, schools and businesses of all types and sizes will have wildly different messages and approaches rather than something that’s recognisably from the UK.

Thirdly (and going back to the topic of the previous post), there needs to be a narrative to ‘sell’ whatever Brexit deal is reached to UK citizens.  That requires a narrative and you can’t put together a coherent narrative without a vision – in this case, of what life will be like after Brexit.

Part of the difficulty in setting that vision is that none of the political parties seems to have a robust vision that encompasses the whole of the UK; it’s arguable that some of them aren’t clear about what they stand for themselves.  I don’t have a soundbite vision to hand, but I’d say it should:

  • Offer something for everyone, something that’s relevant to them and that they can relate to;
  • Set out the values that will be our post-Brexit touchstones, the ones we’ll keep coming back to;
  • Be recognisable, not too novel or gimmicky;
  • Provide opportunities to everyone and to the country; and
  • Show how these will underpin how we deal with the rest of the world.

These are more inward-looking than outward-looking and that’s deliberate.  Carrying the people of the UK through the Brexit process together is more important than – and is critical to – how we present ourselves to the outside world.

Brexit and the Power of a Narrative

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It’s a while since I’ve published any posts because I haven’t felt that there’s anything I particularly wanted to say.  But I’ve been gathering thoughts over the last few weeks and they’ll be the subject of a series of posts of which this is the first.  It’s about the importance of having a narrative.

Whenever you need to communicate a message – whether that’s in writing or orally – tell people a story.  I don’t mean a fake-news, fairy tale kind of story.  Give your audience – the reader or the listener – a storyline that they can follow.  Journalists do this and the best public speakers do too:  think of the speeches of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.  There’s a path for the audience to follow, a vehicle for a message that goes beyond soundbites.

The same principles apply to a lot of what we do.  At an interview, you can answer questions, but it’s so much more compelling if you have a narrative about yourself, what you do, your values and how you work that you can set out over the course of the interview.  If you need to negotiate (whether with another member of the family, at work or in other aspects of daily life), an argument is more convincing if you place it in the context of a narrative.  A strong narrative will give you a reference point to come back to if you lose your way and help you identify the points you want – proactively – to make.

So, what’s the narrative on how the UK will look after Brexit?  I’ve been searching for one and there’s so little sign of anything resembling a narrative that I’ve concluded it doesn’t exist.  A deal was struck between the UK and the EU in December, light on detail and with plenty kicked further down the road, but the UK government now needs to articulate what it wants from the next stage of the negotiations.

Without a narrative, it will be difficult – if not impossible – to settle the UK’s external relationships on an appropriate footing and in an appropriate manner.  But, even more importantly, it will be difficult to carry the country and show the people of the UK what life beyond Brexit will look like and what it will consist of.

A narrative is crucial, but there can’t be a narrative without a vision.  In the case of Brexit, there needs to be a vision for the type of country the UK will be and how it will interact with EU countries and other nations and a narrative to communicate that vision convincingly.  Next week, I’ll look at what a vision might involve.