DExEU and Britain's top civil servant at odds over effectiveness of Brexit comms

Civil service chief Sir Mark Sedwill has told MPs concerned about 'no-deal Brexit' preparedness that the message is getting through, in the same week that the Department for Exiting the European Union admitted its comms were "not having the desired effect".

Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service (Pic credit: Sarel Jansen/UK Government)
Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service (Pic credit: Sarel Jansen/UK Government)

Sir Mark told MPs that "from us you will get Project Fact" during an evidence session before the public administration and constitutional affairs committee.

In a transcript of the session, published yesterday, Sir Mark rejected suggestions that the Government’s messaging on Brexit preparedness is failing to result in people doing things such as renewing their passports.

"Individuals and citizens and businesses are making their own judgments," he said.

Appearing before the committee last week, Sir Mark insisted that the Government has been proactive in keeping people informed, making information available and putting it online.

Comms crowded out

"That has now been complemented by some radio advertising and we have plans to bring through some television advertising as well. There is a communications campaign. Of course citizens and businesses are aware of that, but they also look at the front pages and the news bulletins and they make their own judgments about the likelihood of no deal on 29 March."

He added: "I think if the news started to shift and people believed that the likelihood of no deal, whether at the end of March or later, became greater, we would see a shift in the pattern of behaviour."

Sir Mark commented: "We have pushed out a lot of information, but we have to accept that when the main news on Brexit is about the overall picture — the likelihood of [a] deal, the likelihood of no deal, the likelihood of extension and contingency plans — inevitably that influences, one might even suggest dominates, the judgments that individual citizens and businesses make."

He described the scale of Government comms activity on Brexit: "We have continued to communicate, with 200 elements of communication out just in the last few weeks."

People not heeding the Government's advice

This comes days after the Government criticised its own Brexit comms campaign.

In its assessment of the implications of a no-deal Brexit, released by DExEU last week, the Government blamed delays to no-deal preparations as being "partly due to communications to third parties, including many businesses, not having the intended effect".

The assessment stated: "In recent weeks, the Government has stepped up communications to businesses and individuals to provide the information they need to prepare."

It added: "The Government is continuing to work to increase funded, targeted advertising on no-deal preparedness, including through radio and social media."

Lack of action

However, the assessment warned: "Despite communications from the Government, there is little evidence that businesses are preparing in earnest for a no-deal scenario, and evidence indicates that readiness of small and medium-sized enterprises in particular is low."

In addition, it said: "Evidence suggests that individual citizens are also not preparing for the effects that they would feel in a no-deal scenario."

The government paper stated: "As of February 2019, despite a public information campaign encouraging the public to seek out the Government’s advice on preparing for a ‘no-deal’, noticeable behaviour change has not been witnessed at any significant scale."

It said: "Government judges that the reason for this lack of action is often because a no-deal scenario is not seen as a sufficiently credible outcome to take action or outlay expenditure."

The Department for Exiting the European Union’s publicity campaign, launched at the start of the year, was branded "pathetic, horrible, patronising" and "shameful" by critics.

Click here to subscribe to the FREE public sector bulletin to receive dedicated public sector news, features and comment straight to your inbox.

Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.

To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the public sector bulletin, email

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in