The short course for strategy and policy is really quite quick and simple. To make policy one determines what your ideal objectives are, establish how much risk you are willing to assume to achieve them, and then either decide to attempt to achieve those objectives or a less than ideal, but still perfectly acceptable, but less risky alternative. Once this is done, in order to further minimize that risk and to ensure the maximum likelihood of success, you determine what ways and means you have, what additional ways and means you may need, how to bridge the gap between the two, and then you execute: applying your ways and means to achieve your ends. Finally, personalities matter and relationships matter. Congratulations! You now know more about strategy and policy than any elected or appointed official pushing for the Leave position that I saw on the BBC News coverage of the Brexit vote from 8 PM EDT last night to 3 AM EDT this morning.
It didn’t matter if the official was from the Conservative Party or from the Labor Party or from the UK Independence Party. They knew what the ends they wanted to achieve – leave the EU on terms negotiated to be the most favorable to Britain, but that was it. None of them expressed any real idea of how to achieve this beyond Vote for Leave, Article 50 now or later, return of sovereignty, and a better future for Britain. I don’t mean to make light of what happened or what anyone tuning in witnessed. A number of these ladies and gentlemen were quite articulate, had a clear grasp of how the Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty process worked, and in some cases actually were quite aware that the real issues were poor outcomes for average, and often rural/small town/village British people that resulted from the failures of British government and governance, not because of anything specifically involving the EU.
What we have watched today is emblematic of this failure of strategic vision, clarity, and understanding. Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, made it very clear that former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Conservative MP and Leave Leader Michael Gove’s assertions about investing the money that will not be sent to Brussels into the National Health Service is unlikely. He also said that he 1) never said it and 2) had he had any official capacity in the Leave Campaign he would not have said it. This was one of, if not the, central themes of the Leave Campaign.
(Mayor Johnson speaking adjacent to one of the central Leave Campaign Themes**)
(Mayor Johnson and MP Stuart speaking in front of the official Leave Campaign bus)***
Farage disparaging his more conventional fellow travelers, and being brutally honest about their false promises was a ray of sunshine compared to what we heard from the formal leaders. Johnson, MP Gove, and EU immigrant to Britain MP Gisela Stuart**** are all now calling for calm, patience, time, and space arguing there is no need, nor rush to invoke Article 50 and begin the exit immediately. While this mirrors remarks made by some of the elected officials in the Leave camp that appeared on the BBC last night, others argued that the separation must begin immediately. What no one seems to have prepared for, what no one seems to have considered, is that the EU itself gets a vote. EU officials weighed in this morning by immediately calling for Britain’s invocation of Article 50 to prevent a dragged out process, uncertainty, and the possibility that the nationalist fervor could fully take hold in other parts of the EU.
What Johnson, Gove, Stuart, and their fellow Leave supporters also failed to consider was what would happen if the United Kingdom was not united in the referendum. On the BBC last night, Former Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party MP Alex Salmond explained to the panel that this concern was brought up to Prime Minister Cameron before the referendum was set. And that the recommendation was that it should require not just a popular vote win for Leave, but a win for Leave in all four constituent portions of the United Kingdom to trigger the Brexit. Salmond explained, with a fair degree of amusement, that Cameron didn’t think that would be necessary, rejected the recommendation, and was probably now regretting doing so. Regardless, and despite Johnson’s call for calm, unity, and no need to or worry that this might lead to the dissolution of the the United Kingdom, that reality has already begun. Scotland is preparing itself for a second independence referendum as they wish to stay in the EU. Republican officials in Northern Ireland have raised the possibility of a referendum to leave the UK and unite with the Republic of Ireland. And Gibraltar’s status is unclear, with Spanish officials calling for shared sovereignty. It is not clear that Labour’s Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has any better strategy for dealing with what the Leave vote has wrought, and a motion of no confidence in his leadership was quickly submitted this morning. It is also not clear that anyone else could successfully lead the currently internally divided Labour Party any better or effectively challenge for a Parliamentary majority.
Despite planning by the Bank of England in case things went wrong, the Vote Leave Campaign leadership, official and unofficial alike, did not seem to have a plan for the effect of victory on the British, European, and global economies. The pro Brexit vote demonstrates the failure of elected and appointed officials who do not have a firm grasp of policy, strategy, and their potential effects – positive and negative. It is quite ironic that a successful referendum campaign partially based on anger at elites, notables, and experts to run things effectively has shown that the elites, notables, and experts running the Vote Leave movement and campaign do indeed not have the foggiest idea of how to run things effectively. Nothing says “I understand and empathize” like a Vote Leave Tory Member of Parliament, who graduated from public school and the Oxbridge system and has been an MP for his entire professional career, explaining to BBC anchors that the average British person is fed up with the failures of the elites and the experts running Britain and that is why the country must leave the EU.
The chaos seen today clearly demonstrates the failure of strategy and policy among the Vote Leave campaign leadership. We can clearly see that they don’t really have any ways and means to achieve their stated end: a negotiated departure from the EU that provides Britain with the best possible terms. Nor do they have any idea what they should be. They have destroyed their relationships with the EU leadership who want the separation done immediately and are in no mood to bargain, let alone allow Britain off the hook easy. And they have no leverage with the EU as a result. Johnson, Gove, Stuart, Farage, and others are now the dog that caught the Vauxhall. Unfortunately they clearly have no idea what to do with it.
* Image from here.
** Image from here.
*** Image from here.
**** Stuart is now under formal inquiry/investigation for failing to disclose a financial interest in a company that has promoted financial planning as a result of the Leave campaign winning.