Former Vote Leave CEO Matthew Elliott (above) gave the keynote speech at last night's AGM of the CIPR.
In the subsequent discussion with Connect Communications' pro-'Remain' founder Gill Morris and former CIPR president Lionel Zetter, he said that Theresa May's government has made a mistake in not being sufficiently conciliatory towards those who opposed Brexit.
He said: "I think they could have done more to try to reach out to the 48 per cent - for example, a theme at the Vote Leave campaign we talked about [was] the EU institutions that Britain should continue to be a member of after Brexit, so everything from the Horizon scheme for scientific funding, or the Erasmus scheme for student travel around the EU or even, dare I say, things like Euratom, which was in the news last week."
Elliott continued: "All of these different projects and organisations have non-EU members who have bilateral deals with them, and I think, perhaps, if the government had in the past year said 'actually, there are different things we want to stay part of and stay connected to, and we want to be a good neighbour to the EU', that more positive language I think would have helped rally people around."
Elliott said Theresa May's tendency to "overemphasise the fact that 'Brexit means Brexit' and that no deal is better than a bad deal" had not been entirely helpful, commenting: "Repeating these phrases over and over again to sort of reinforce her position hasn't helped bring the 48 per cent on side, when a more positive message reaching out to them could have been better."
He also said that "one of the things I regret about the campaign" is that he and colleagues had not "prepared our comms better for the weekend afterwards" - in the days immediately after the vote, the Conservative party's attention came to focus on its leadership race after David Cameron's resignation.
"A core of people sould have been thinking 'what’s the sort of message we want to put out, not just to the country, but to the world'... [but] we essentially set up shop on 24 June," he said.
Elliott's speech proved controversial - with questions and comments from the audience inevitably turning towards Vote Leave's infamous bus.
All resolutions proposed at the AGM were passed by member vote.
These include a change to the timings of council member elections – in future, members will serve two-year terms rather than the current one, and only half of members will come up for re-election at each vote. There was also the proposal to abolish the role of honorary treasurer; and a change to the institute's rules to remove gender-specific language - despite some concern among attendees that the new wording would not encompass people who do not identify with either gender.
CEO Alastair McCapra told attendees that the organisation could move from its Russell Square premises as early as next spring, in a cost-saving move by CIPR first announced a year ago.
The President Jason Mackenzie awarded the CIPR President's Medal to Harold Burson, the co-founder of Burson-Marsteller.
The medal was accepted by his former colleague Roger Hayes, while another veteran of the agency, Bob Leaf, paid tribute to his former boss. Burson himself sent a statement from New York saing that he was "truly humbled to receive the President’s Medal from the CIPR and to join so many highly accomplished and distinguished honorees".