The debate on #Brexit at the European Business Summit on 1 June was one of the liveliest of the two-day marathon event bringing together top policy-makers and the range of influence groups in Brussels. Hosted by former Cambre media guru, journalist Chris Burns, the debate saw three Brits of varying convictions but all with a strong knowledge of the EU-UK relationship tackle the intricacies of an issue which continues to leave most observers puzzled – and very worried.
Cambre CEO Tom Parker, who is also the Vice-President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, was the strongest voice for the #Bremain camp, but agreed with Open Europe’s Raoul Ruparel that the #StrongerIn campaign had started too late, lacked professionalism and the ability to connect with the “man on the street”. The #Bremain camp had not grasped the nature of 21st Century campaigning, said Tom, urging them to invest more in social media and grass-roots mobilisation.
The speakers, including David Thomas, President of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe, concurred that the negative economic impact of a Leave vote was clear. It is important to repeat this economic message, opined Tom, but the #Bremain campaign needs also to show some passion, and to highlight the positive: what are the benefits of staying as opposed to what are the risks of leavin? For business, however, risk assessment and management strategies are key. Many of them face major issues, not least of lost influence. “Businesses need to scenario plan, and fast,” Tom advised.
So what happens after the vote? “In case of a vote to stay in, the biggest risk is that the EU does not reform. In that case, within three years there will be another Brexit referendum,” warned David Thomas. He’s right. Before then though, we may well be facing #Frexit, #Czexit and #Dexit… not to mention of course the ongoing #Grexit.