Was Brexit a communications failure?

Judy Knighton | July 13, 2016

Image, Cartoon showing British people deciding whether to leave or stay in the EU.

The Brexit vote was Yes, and now Britain and the EU are dealing with the consequences. Could plain English have changed the outcome? Economist Paul Johnston has a view on that.

In a thoughtful article for the Institute of Fiscal Studies, he accuses his profession of failing to communicate in the months before the Brexit referendum.

Economists were close to unanimous on their prediction of the negative economic consequences of a Yes vote, he says. And he asks why economists’ warnings were not understood and not believed.

One of the key reasons he gives is that economists have failed to communicate basic economic concepts in terms people can understand.

Who cares about “the economy”, “growth”, “trade”, if we can’t translate them directly into “incomes”, “jobs”, “living standards”. We must start speaking more plainly. And we must also link these things to real people, to the poor, to those in the middle, to parents, to families, to workers and to pensioners.

That’s the job for all organisations, all professions. And that’s the role of plain English.

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