Episode 16 looks at the destructive effect of ambiguity on effective messaging around two major aspects of policy – Brexit and Covid19. Also available on principle podcast services for subscription/download – quick links at end of post.
The UK Government has got itself into a muddle over its response to the outworking of the Northern Ireland Protocol in respect of the internal market of the UK. Maybe it is obvious the deep contradiction between the EU Single Market demanding some aspect of ‘customs’ to function and the UK believing the Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement means that Northern Ireland remains within the UK Customs territory and there should be no barriers to trade within the UK or UK Free Trade partners as deals (such as Japan) come on line.
That ambiguity was well explained in a recent The Critic article which wondered whether the wording of the Protocol was by accident or design; the podcast explores some more. Owen certainly has had plenty to say recently on the muddle that the Government has managed to create for itself, talking about how the proposed Internal Market Bill is a necessary step to minimising impact on Northern Ireland business by ‘clarifying’ and noting the hysteria around the Bill has little to with practicalities:
There is one thing for sure — the people who are defending the Withdrawal Agreement most adamantly, as opposed to those worried purely by the possibility that the UK may knowingly break international law, are not interested in protecting the Belfast Agreement. They are concerned only with maximising the protocol’s potential to damage Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. And, for them, that’s always what an Irish Sea border has been about.
We pick up on another aspect of the reaction to the Internal Market Bill that Owen also challenges; that of “Irish America”. Noting that the loudest voices are of a generation that still thinks ‘Irish America” is a meaningful voting constituency outside Congress, the bigger question is why the British Government has been so poor at explaining itself – Pelosi’s Office gives impression that the only voices it ever hears are those of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Sinn Fein.
Efforts, however, would be of little value in the USA if the UK Government remains so hapless at home as discussed in the previous post on this site. Brandon Lewis’s answers on matters relating to the IMB in the House of Commons seems only to have generated more questions, and a hostage to fortune in respect of future policy in any field.
That same ambiguity, uncertainty and discontinuity seems to be prevalent across all aspects of Government communications at present – though admittedly there is little but Brexit and Covid19 breaking into the news cycles. Northern Ireland has its own particular challenges on messaging.
The podcast was recorded at the end of last week, and before the scenes of pitch invasions
Disgraceful, dangerous scenes as fans from Dungannon Clarkes and Trillick invade the pitch after a game yesterday pic.twitter.com/hgW2A3AfJb
— Stephen Nolan (@StephenNolan) September 21, 2020
and street parties arising from a Gaelic Athletic match over the weekend
— Baz Mac (@berba_10) September 20, 2020
Though we did record following a week of reports from the Holylands area of Belfast
Holylands: Students continue to ignore COVID-19 restrictions – PSNI issue 55 COVID-19 and eight prohibition notices overnight. https://t.co/KgSS8I2sMA
— Belfast News Letter (@News_Letter) September 21, 2020
where the lack of leadership and ‘never apologise’ attitude of Sinn Fein makes the attitudes of nationalist youth unsurprising – rules are something others are expected to follow…
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is to be interviewed by police over alleged breaches of coronavirus regulations. Ms O’Neill was among crowds who attended the funeral of Bobby Storey in west Belfast in June despite restrictions on public gatherings. pic.twitter.com/IU9geEl49K
— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) September 19, 2020
Clear messaging is needed in actions and not just words. But ambiguity avoiding honest practical steps based on a realistic and clear assessment of the situation seems to be absent from just about all Governments’ communication. A reset is needed, sooner rather than later. Muddled messaging is only the outworking of muddle thinking.
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