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Public will be left confused by simultaneous Covid-19 and Brexit messaging, say MPs

Public will be left confused by simultaneous Covid-19 and Brexit messaging, say MPs

The MPs investigated the impact of the 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign (PA)

3 min read

A cross-party group of MPs has warned that the public could be left confused if the Government is unable to handle simultaneous Covid-19 and Brexit messages.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee says the major public health campaign around coronavirus is likely to “crowd out” communication about the end of the transition period with the EU on December 31.

Its members based their conclusions after studying the £100million “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign from last summer to prepare for a potential ‘no-deal’ outcome.

The report said that "despite spending £46million of taxpayers’ money before aborting the campaign on October 28th, when an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU to 31 January 2020 was agreed, the Cabinet Office was unable to demonstrate that the campaign led to people being better prepared for the UK leaving the EU."

The committee suggested planning for that push started too late, “with insufficient attention paid at the outset to understanding what businesses needed, or how to monitor and evaluate the campaign’s success”.

And they criticised the emphasis on what is known as the “air” campaign elements of mass advertising, rather than the “ground” elements targeted at getting people to change their behaviour.

The committee is calling on Government to set out a clear, cost-justified plan for an “effective and timely communication campaign for the end of the Brexit transition period” on 31 December which has “learned from the failures of last year’s campaign”.

And Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the PAC, 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.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The ‘Get Ready for Brexit’ campaign reached 99.8% of the UK population and increased public awareness of the action they needed to take to be ready to leave the EU on 31 January 2020. 

“The transition period will finish at the end of December 2020 and we will similarly ensure people and businesses have the information they need to prepare in a timely way.”

They added: ”The successful approach taken for the 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign has been replicated for the coronavirus campaign, which similarly has shown high public awareness and impact so far. 

“The Cabinet Office is confident that both campaigns can be delivered successfully to ensure citizens remain safe and informed and reduce uncertainty for businesses."

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