14 January 2018

Framing Brexit

The Remain narrative failure..

I can hardly believe this is my first blog post about brexit. Maybe it's always felt too big a subject with so much that needs saying. Possibly it's because so many fantastic people are already saying much of what I would, and saying it better. Maybe it's that I spend too much time on Twitter (@Untidy_mind) arguing about it. But, there is one aspect I don't see much comment on that really needs saying.

It's this: the Remain campaign is widely criticised for having let the other side control the narrative (amongst other failures). So why are campaigners still doing this?

The fight to try and change direction from that set in June 2016 continues to make the same mistake.

Remain campaigners continue to boost the Leave narratives.

This post looks at one example of this - the financial settlement. The point applies more widely.

When the government announced it had reached an agreement on the financial issue, there was a lot of noise from Remain campaigners. Did they point out that common sense had prevailed? Some did, but not many. Did they point out how this should have been settled ages ago and only wasn't because of delusions of the Brexit cheerleaders? Again, some did but it wasn't the over-riding message.

No, the most common refrains we heard were "we were told Brexit would make us richer, but it is now costing us billions" and "the UK has caved in to EU demands. So much for they need us more than we need them!".

Why was this wrong?

"Brexit is now costing us money." The leavers have always claimed that the EU cost us a lot and wasn't worth it. This was always a load of crap. Why then would we feed the narrative of the EU being an unecessary cost - even when we try to leave?

"We caved in to their demands." The other Leave narrative was a warped portrayal of sovereignty, of being bullied and told what to do by the EU (rather than participating in it's decisions as an influential member). I really don't think I need to point out how the 'caving in to demands' response feeds in to this narrative.

The worst thing about all this is that is that the response just doesn't match reality. So how should we have responded? 

What narratives do we want to create?

This agreement is a massive "well, about time." The delusion and lack of understanding of the hardline Brexiter's (who have led team Brexit) were the only reason why we hadn't.

Leave's leaders need to be discredited - and it shouldn't be that hard to do! On this issue it starts by challenging the flawed narrative of an exit 'bill'. There is no 'bill' to leave, and this is what the brexit headbangers never understood - they were stuck in a victim mentality of their own creation. 

A cost to leave was never being discussed, that our media has continued to call it this and failed to explain what was, is a huge failure of journalism. The discussion was about what happens with the existing funding agreements that the UK had already signed up to.

This is about money that was always committed to EU projects, whether we leave or not. It is not due because we are leaving. The reason this agreement was inevitable is because the UK is not a crackpot country that refuses to follow through with its commitments, not because the UK is at the mercy of a bullying EU.  We made commitments to our partners, and breaking them would damage our reputation internationally. Brexit is damaging this enough already.
Leavers who argued for no financial agreement should be mercilessly criticised for trying to destroy our international reputation. No matter what your politics, nearly everyone sees the UK as (or wants the UK to be) a mature, responsible member of the international community.

The damage being done to our global reputation by Brexit and it's leaders is real and must be our message.

So, there is no playground bully demand from the EU for money to 'get out'. There never was. But, more importantly this is not a competition between UK and EU negotiators. They are (or should) be looking for the least worst way of the UK leaving. That is how the EU negotiators, diplomats and member state leaders constantly describe it. There may be a time, if we become a third country, where we will be competitors and not partners, but that is all down to the UK and our choices.

We must highlight how these negotiations are all about damage limitation. There is no positive outcome for anyone.

The idea that the EU 'got it's way' is wrong. We all lose from this. The agreement is the least worst option for both the UK and EU. We agreed to continue making the financial contributions we have already agreed to. We will also continue to benefit from the programs that this money funds. We make the agreed payments, we play by the already agreed rules (which are themselves a benefit to business), and continue to realise the value of our investment. The agreement is about continuing a positive decision we made: it needn't be the last time we do so.

Remainers should have used this as an opportunity to highlight the value of our EU contributions.

And, that is the point. Our EU payments were always a valuable investment. This was a chance to show that our collaboration with EU partners is beneficial. The EU and the UK agreed to continue, for a bit longer, it's mutually beneficial arrangements; we could choose not to end them at all.

Lets not collude in the fictitious narrative of the bullying EU.

We must avoid feeding the Brexit monster .