Simon Hill explores why a lack of cross-party collaboration is one of the biggest errors in the handling of Brexit over the past three years
Selecting the most catastrophic error in the government’s handling of Brexit is a tough challenge. Even leaving aside the decision to hold the referendum in the first place and early contenders such as the £350 million bus claim during the campaign, the whole process has been littered with examples of how not to handle a political situation.
From the outset, Brexit has been poorly handled.
The government has taken an admittedly difficult situation and consistently made mess of it. However, one of the most significant errors has been the lack of collaboration in search of ideas that might steer the United Kingdom (UK) through such a challenging period.
A lack of cross-party discussion
Once the referendum results were in and the dust had (somewhat) settled from the immediate fallout, the priority was to come up with a suitable plan that would best facilitate the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Surely the most productive way of achieving this would be to engage in cross-party talks?
Perhaps it’s naïve to even suggest that. Yet cross-party talks are actually fairly commonplace and can focus on a broad range of topics. Known officially as All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), these cross-party groups formed by MPs and Members of the House of Lords are described by the government itself as groups that ‘can sometimes be influential because of their non-partisan, bicameral approach to an issue’.
Brexit is not a specific party issue – it’s something that will have a profound effect on the UK for generations to come. Yet the government did not even attempt to initiate cross-party talks until a month or so before Brexit was due.
Given its importance and the ease in which government could have worked on a bipartisan basis – it is now pushing for a ‘cross-party pact’ to get a deal through – the lack of collaboration and meaningful openness is alarming and has left the country in a very difficult situation.
Capturing ideas and innovation
It would have been great to see government taking a more collaborative and co-creative approach to Brexit, ideally on a bipartisan basis. The government would have retained ultimate sign-off, as it would with any policy, but to involve other stakeholders much earlier would have been highly productive and could even have helped address the inflammatory stance adopted by both sides of the debate.
Doing this could have involved representatives from other political parties, but also broader groups from business, industry, education and more. Including such stakeholders, with their in-depth understanding of how Brexit would impact their own sectors, could help generate ideas and inform discussion as to the best ways to manage Brexit.
Known as idea management, this is a structured and strategic approach that is becoming widely-used in business and even in many areas of the public sector. Idea management is essentially crowdsourcing ideas, both from within an organisation and externally, and initiating a process to evaluate, improve and implement those ideas.
Idea management is used by businesses that understand the need to innovate, change and transform. In an increasingly competitive landscape, even parts of the government itself recognise the need to innovate. We work with the Ministry of Defence (MOD), helping them involve their employees with innovation and to engage the people that are best placed to identify issues and solutions.
A need for openness
So there are already examples of government ministries embracing a more open and collaborative approach to problem solving and idea generation and it feels like Brexit would have benefitted hugely from a similar approach and a broadening of the groups involved in discussions.
It still wouldn’t have been a straight forward process – Brexit is after all, one of the most complex, involved and significant events in UK and European politics – but discussing and collaborating on a cross-party basis would have been a more productive way of managing it all.
Innovation is about improving an organisation through new ideas or methodologies across all facets, to future-proof that organisation against disruptive change. Brexit is perhaps the ultimate disruptive change facing the UK and was far too big to be approached without collaboration.
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