And so, the end is near… we’re into the final stretch… with clichés continuing to roll out daily to keep us up-to-date… with the fact that on June 23rd, Britain is going to the polls to decide whether it wants to ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ in the EU.
But whilst we are being bombarded with reasons to stay or leave from supporters of both sides, leaders of industry, foreign leaders and celebrities, it is valuable to ask why it is that we are having the referendum in the first place. This discussion could go back as far as our original joining date in 1973 but for the purposes of brevity and a more current debate, I thought it would be good to look at the events of this year leading up to the referendum in JUST 2 days.
Starting the road to the referendum
Back in February of this year David Cameron went to the EU to negotiate for the UK on many fronts. Whilst many had been unhappy with the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty, David Cameron billed this as the chance to renegotiate for Britain to get the terms that we wanted from the EU. His topics for debate at the EU level included sovereignty, migrants and welfare benefits and economic governance.
On a whole, I can honestly say that I do respect our Prime Minister and what he and his team have done to rescue the British Economy since the Credit Crunch. I even voted for him at the last election. It is clear David Cameron’s bravado and quotes in the media at the time were clearly meant to send a key message to the British public; this is what we want out of the EU and I will get it for you. But I can’t help think that this tactic only helped to alienate other leaders before the negotiations began. There was no talk about what the UK could bring to the table, how we are strong in certain areas and what we can therefore bring to the EU. Going into a room full of leaders who’ve heard only how Britain is in it for a better deal for themselves, I’m not sure that I’d want to give the UK what it wanted. Whenever you are dealing with people who need to give you what you want it is key to start with what you think you can offer them. Everyone wants to feel part of the process and know how they are gaining something by taking part.
Bringing stakeholders together, not starting on the back foot
Everyone brings their own agenda to the table. At the time the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo was, understandably, not happy with the UK’s proposal to either end or restrict child benefit being send outside of the UK. Meanwhile the then Irish PM Enda Kenny saw that any Brexit or restriction on the benefits given to European workers will greatly affect Irish citizens living and working in the UK. To go into a negotiation by laying out how you are going to get what you want is just a case of bad stakeholder management and immediately puts anyone in the room with you on the wrong side.
Fresh from the new negotiations David Cameron then declared a referendum on whether we should remain in or leave the EU. When the referendum was announced in February he made it clear that he had negotiated a good deal for the UK and the referendum should be based on whether the British public wanted this deal or wanted to vote to leave the EU entirely and begin negotiations as to what that might look like.
Letting the voters decide: Where is the information?
I’ve heard a lot of people question why this is even a referendum in the first place. I think that could be taken as a valid point. The EU is an incredibly complex monetary and political union and is incredibly far-reaching. I’m not sure whether in this context limiting people’s right to vote is a good thing but there is another (very big) debate to be had in any large organization or project about which parties to any agreement actually get a say in the outcome.
Since declaring the referendum there has been much said on either side about the worst outcomes of staying or leaving but with little facts to really back them up. Figures covering what we spend on EU membership, whether we’d get all of that back, what we could actually spend that money on are all being thrown about with abandon. I find it interesting that everyone I speak to has a different reason for wanting to stay or leave. People seem to know that the figures are scaremongering used to gain votes on either side but they have a personal idea of why we’d be better off out or in.
It seems foolish that having negotiated what he believes is a good deal for the UK in February and being secure enough in that deal to declare a referendum off the back of it; David Cameron hasn’t really mentioned this again since he started campaigning. Giving people facts about what is really going on and how this could affect them is a key way to engage them in the process, to make sure that they know what they are voting for and what the outcome could be. Not all of those are clear right now, and I’ve included the cartoon in this article as it encapsulates that so well, but the more information you can give people about what your vision and values are for whatever you are working on, the more you can engage them with what you are doing.
PLEASE, can we focus on the positives
Due to the wonders of postal voting, I cast my vote more than a week ago. However, until as recent as the last weekend before everyone else goes to the poll, as I watched all of the daily debates or news pieces, I wondered if I’d made the right decision, changing my mind almost every other day. I do agree with the Leave camp that the UK is a strong business base and we don’t need to be afraid of being outside the EU as we have much to offer on the world stage across business, technology and skills. I’d also like to see a different approach to immigration, as someone who has been through the process for Highly Skilled Migrants (from Australia and Singapore) there is much that could be improved. You’ve heard from my previous blog, immigration does bring significant benefits to Britain, of course controls needs to be put in place.
Now that we have no choice but to vote, if I can offer assistance to either side, they need to focus on the positives of why we should Remain or Leave, and not the negatives. Using fear to get people to vote a certain way and backing people into corners is unfair and I hope doesn’t work. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as an effective method to make friends and influence people. It’s been good to see on the live debate that both sides especially the Remain camp have started to focus more on the positives. I thought Ruth Davidson presented the best arguments showing us the many benefits of remaining in the EU.
It was certainly disappointing that David Cameron wasn’t there to defend his actions both in what he has managed to negotiate and to support the Remain team. I’m left wondering whether, if he’d managed this process and the stakeholders involved differently, we might not be voting at all.
Lets work together to win as a team
As a financial services consultant having spent time watching how bankers and traders behave and trying to bring change to banks for the past 10 plus year, I certainly support change. However, I don’t believe that leaving the EU is the only way to bring about change. A leave vote will indeed bring about market turmoil and a recession to both Britain and the rest of the EU, and possibly the rest of the world. That is certainly not good for anyone. For the sake of economic growth and stability both in the short and longer term, I am left with confidence that I did indeed vote the right way. No matter what happens and whether my vote is on the winning side, we do need to focus on working with the EU to not just re-negotiate our position and what works for Britain, but how we could all prosper and grow together.
Having weighed the arguments on both sides in an objective way, certainly for me, as a financial services consultant in banking, and also the founder of a new tech start-up wanting a strong economy in Britain, the EU and the world to help my business survive and grow, I SUPPORT REMAIN.
Julie Choo is lead author of THE STRATEGY JOURNEY book (Coming in June/July 2019) and the founder of STRATABILITY ACADEMY. She speaks regularly at numerous tech, careers and entrepreneur events globally. Julie continues to consult at large Fortune 500 companies, Global Banks and tech start-ups. As a lover of all things strategic, she is a keen Formula One fan who named her dog, Kimi (after Raikkonnen), and follows football – favourite club changes based on where she calls home.