Messaging about the end of the Brexit transition period may end up ‘crowded out’ by coronavirus information, a committee of MPs are warning.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee has warned the previous ‘get ready for Brexit’ campaign failed to prepare people for a possible no-deal Brexit on October 31st, and warned the government will find the challenge even tougher if the focus remains on coronavirus.
Boris Johnson has insisted he will not apply for an extension beyond the end of the transition period scheduled to finish on December 31, despite warnings the coronavirus outbreak means it will be impossible to conclude a new free trade agreement with the EU by then, and the impact it could have on the economy.
The committee said it was ‘vital’ that citizens and businesses were well prepared for the changes that the end of the transition will entail.
However, it said that despite spending £46 million, there was no evidence that a previous campaign ahead of the UK’s earlier planned withdrawal at the end of last October had resulted in people being better prepared.
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It said planning had started too late, with too much spent on mass advertising designed to raise general awareness and not enough on targeted activity to get people to take action.
The Cabinet Office said it had learned lessons from previous campaigns, but the committee expressed concern that some of the communications team involved had now been transferred to work on Covid-19.
‘We are concerned about whether the Cabinet Office will have sufficient capacity to work effectively on both campaigns simultaneously,’ the committee said.
‘It is likely that the Covid-19 campaign will crowd out the transition campaign. Businesses and the public may not have the capacity to act on both sets of messages.’
The committee chair Meg Hillier said: ‘The government is taking the UK through not one but two incredible, unprecedented political and economic upheavals simultaneously, but it is business, the public and the public purse that will suffer if it gets it wrong.
‘The government has shown it could not fully successfully deliver one such campaign, before the pandemic disaster hit – in that case with a lot of money spent on the overarching message but less success on the detail which changes behaviour.
‘With the nation’s fortunes, livelihoods and even lives at stake, the government must quickly give us confidence that it has learned the lessons and understands the scale of the task of running two campaigns like this, each much more complex and longer term than either the coronavirus ‘Stay at home’ or the original Brexit date messages.’