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Blog - Grip on political and strategic risks: lessons from a potential no-deal Brexit

Published on 21 May 2019

The Brexit hurricane has hit Europe over the past months. Politics has started to function again in the lull, but as long as the British parliament does not agree with the withdrawal agreement, the danger of a no-deal Brexit - and the adverse consequences of this - is not over. In addition to the ongoing preparations, a government-wide crisis management process started in 2018 to prepare the Netherlands for such a no deal. In this fascinating process, Berenschot, together with involved ministries and implementing bodies, investigated the existing inventory of possible effects of a no-deal, including measures to manage this. The focus in this lay on identifying blind spots and mapping out the cascade effects of both effects and mitigating measures. We also trained national crisis structure top level civil servants to prepare them for these effects and for their role in crisis management. This blog explains our approach and the lessons learned.

In-depth risk inventory

For the Brexit issue, Berenschot advisers Vincent van der Vlies, Mariska Peeters and Jorien Vink developed a risk inventory method that focuses specifically on identifying and managing political and strategic risks. Policy, implementation, monitoring and crisis expertise converged in four interdepartmental themed sessions with dozens of civil servants. During these sessions, the existing inventory of political and safety developments was further refined and expanded to include the developed risk inventory. New perspectives were processed by examining the risks again in various compilations. This gave even better insight into measures to reduce the risks and which risks remain after taking preparatory measures.

Top 3

A clear picture developed regarding those aspects that had already been well-prepared and where additional information or extra effort was needed to manage the risks. By ranking the various risks using predefined criteria, these could be compared with each other and weighed against each other. This resulted in a top 3 of topics. These related to the effects on traffic at ferry terminals (congestion), medicines & medical aids and trade flows.

Fictitious scenarios

Policy experts, crisis management professionals from the involved ministries and implementation bodies were then trained in two so-called dilemma sessions. The participants worked with fictitious scenarios around a no-deal Brexit, including accompanying issues related to responsibilities, authorities, substantive inconsistencies and public opinion. This enabled the content experts and crisis professionals to learn from each other.

What did we learn?

Preparation for non-acute crisis is different from a ‘normal’ crisis

Brexit is not an acute crisis that is a fait accompli for organisations, it is a latent threat. Every day, new developments can occur. This means that a statement by a politician or a lost vote can have tremendous influence on preparations. Moreover, Brexit was front page news for a long time, which meant that activities were subject to significant scrutiny. All in all, it was a unique and instructive preparation for all those involved.

Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach is a must

Brexit is unique. This means that there was no model available for the possible consequences and solution directions. Existing risk inventory models were inadequate, were either too technical or focused only on human factors, or they ignored cascade effects. That is why there was a need to develop our own model and approach, and to further identify and take stock of the potential no-deal Brexit issue. The input of expertise from various professional fields and attention for topics that affected multiple policy domains ensured a structured analysis that did justice to the complexity of Brexit.

Good preparation is always invaluable

Brexit day and the preparation deadline had been determined long ago. This offered the opportunity to practise crisis structures, take measures, exchange knowledge and strengthen mutual connections. Even if a no-deal Brexit appears to be averted for now, the fact that people are well-prepared will be of tremendous benefit for any subsequent crisis!

If your organisation is facing a challenge and wants to get a handle on the possible risks, please feel free to contact us. We would be delighted to support you!


Vincent van der Vlies_klein

Vincent van der Vlies

Managing consultant

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