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The problem with a ‘no deal’ Brexit

29 November 2018

8:30 AM

29 November 2018

8:30 AM

There have probably been worse branding campaigns in history. Cadbury’s apparent attempt to drop the word ‘Easter’ from its egg hunts was a clunker of cosmic proportions. The launch of New Coke has found its way into the textbooks as a masterclass in how to trash one of the greatest brands in the world, and Nivea’s ‘White Is Purity’ campaign for its skin creams last year had to be dropped very quickly after the inevitable backlash. The attempt to sell a ‘No Deal’ Brexit is not quite up there with those disasters. But it is getting close.

In truth, there is nothing terribly wrong with leaving the European Union without an agreement, and it might well be better than the alternative we are being bullied into. But like any political idea, product or theory, it needs to be sold to have any chance of success. And this one needs a rebrand, and fast.

If the admen of Charlotte Street or Madison Avenue were allowed to have a say in it, they would throw out the phrase ‘No Deal’ in an instant. New, improved and free are the kind of words they like to use. Terms that communicate confidence, ambition, freshness and positivity. ‘No Deal’ doesn’t tick any of those boxes.  If it communicates any subliminal messages, they are rejection, failure, and isolation, and those are not qualities anyone really wants to associate themselves with. The phrase itself suggest that everything grinds to a halt, that the UK is completely alone, that we are cut off from our neighbours, and that no one wants anything to do with us. The warnings they put on the cigarette packets look good by comparison.

And yet to anyone who looks at the actual arguments, the ‘No Deal’ option is fine. It simply means that we switch to World Trade Organisation rules on March 29th, and then start working out a new trade deal with the EU after that. Most countries around the world deal with the EU perfectly amicably on those terms and there is no reason why we shouldn’t as well. Even better, we save ourselves a heck of a lot of money which can be spent on something else, we can start with a clean slate once tempers have cooled down, and we don’t have to make any messy compromises just because we have to meet an arbitrary deadline. True, there will probably be some short-term economic costs, and a bit of chaos through the spring and early summer. But the economy is already doing perfectly well, and most businesses have perfectly understandably made preparations for leaving without a deal anyway, so it would settle down quite quickly. We’d have some long-term advantages to set against those short-terms cost, and in the end would probably come out ahead – and those are the kind of trade offs that individuals and companies makes all the time. It is nothing to be especially scared of.

But it certainly needs to be sold a lot better. So what would be a better term? A ‘Better Deal Brexit’ would work. Or a ‘Long Term Brexit’. Both would play up the advantages of turning down this deal and waiting until later in the year to re-start negotiations with Brussels. The first-term would get across the point that if we turn down this deal we can get a better one later on once we are safely out of the club (after all, the EU seems perfectly willing to negotiate free trade deals with countries such as Japan and Canada without any of the baggage that comes with being a former member). And a ‘Long-Term Brexit’ would hammer home the point that, after a half century of arguing with ourselves and our neighbours about our role in Europe, it would be better to take the time to work out a new relationship from scratch rather than rush into a deal that will only have to be exhaustively renegotiated almost from day one. With some better marketing, and some zippy, energetic phrases behind it, leaving without a botched deal would have a lot of public support. But without an urgent rebrand we will end up with a deal that no one likes very much. 


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