• How UK politicians should handle a second EU referendum

    In 2016, Britain shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union. The referendum split the country almost down the middle, with 51.9 per cent voting to leave and 48.1 per cent voting to remain. 

    This close result meant that there has always been a possibility of a second referendum, and that possibility appears to be getting closer to reality. Nigel Farage, leader of the leave campaign, recently suggested another vote could be held on the final Brexit deal. Furthermore, a YouGov poll found that 53 per cent of the UK's population would like a final vote on the end deal, the Guardian reports.

    If there is to be a second referendum, how should remainers communicate differently to achieve the result they want?

    Opinions were split almost exactly down the middle during the EU referendum. The EU referendum in 2016 split the United Kingdom in half.

    1) Focus on the positives, not the negatives

    The 2016 remain campaign focused far too much on fear mongering and the negative side of leaving the EU. They discussed what would happen to the economy, claimed the United Kingdom would break apart, and said national defence would be severely compromised if Britain voted to leave. 

    A second referendum campaign should focus on the positives of staying in the EU.

    Negative campaigning rarely works. Remainers should have realised this when, just a month before the EU referendum, Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith lost the mayoral election, largely thanks to a campaign that was labelled "nasty" due to slurs made against his opposition, Sadiq Khan. 

    Instead, a second referendum campaign should focus on the positives of staying in the EU. These include the prosperity EU trade agreements bring, its stability and help with defence in an increasingly dangerous world, and the money donated to local industries such as fishing. Very few of these benefits were sufficiently discussed in the original campaign, and perhaps if those that wanted to leave had been more aware of them, they may have voted to stay.

    2) Accept people's fears

    The second big mistake of the 2016 campaign was their dismissal of voters' very real fears about immigration. Findings by the National Centre for Social Research found that 73 per cent of those who stated they are worried about immigration voted to leave. However these concerns were written off as bigotry or racism, and no real attempt was made to understand these feelings. As a result, these concerns were never addressed, and politicians were unable to change the minds of the sizeable proportion of people who voted leave due to immigration. 

    Politicians must accept these fears are real if a second referendum is held, and remainers will have to show what they are doing to curb immigration. They would also need to negotiate a much better freedom of movement settlement than the one agreed by David Cameron before the original vote. 

    Cornwall voted to leave the EU. However many may not have been aware that Cornwall receives  60 million of EU funding a year. Cornwall received £60 million a year of EU funding, yet still voted to leave, suggesting they weren't aware of this fact.

    3) Recognise the battles you can and can't win

    Even Tony Blair, a key supporter of the remain campaign, told The Independent that there are people who will never change their minds about Brexit. These are the ones who see the EU as bureaucratic, undemocratic and unable to adapt.

    A future remain campaign would have to focus not on these people but those that chose to leave for economic and cultural reasons. These are the easiest concerns to address.

    While remainers did dispute the £350 million a week to the NHS claim in 2016, they didn't properly explain why it wasn't true. A second referendum campaign would ideally discuss this in more detail, citing the rebate the UK gets and the money returned via EU spending. This would highlight the industries and counties that receive significant EU funding. Cornwall, for instance, which voted to leave, had been receiving £60 million of EU funding a year. Perhaps if voters were more aware of this, they would have voted to remain.

    No matter what industry communication professionals are working in, it's essential to remember the importance of positive campaigning, the need to recognise genuine fears and understand where battles can be won. For more communication news and trends, visit our Insights page

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