Britain and Brussels need their own ‘Red Phone’

With the European Union facing unprecedented economic uncertainty, effective channels of communication and cooperation with our largest trading partner have never been more necessary, says Ab Banerjee, Founder & CEO of ViewsHub.

Ab Banerjee
On 1 June 2020 14:54

The Red Telephone

Perhaps one of the most iconic symbols of the deployment of technology in bi-lateral foreign relations is the Moscow-Washington hotline.

Erroneously dubbed the ‘Red Telephone’ in popular culture (it was neither red nor a telephone), the hotline was established in 1963 in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis and linked the Pentagon with the Kremlin. Its introduction was prompted by alarm among officials during the standoff that formal diplomatic messages took around six hours to be delivered, meanwhile unofficial channels, such as television network broadcasts were quicker.

The hotline still exists, though the technology underpinning it has changed overtime.

Initially based on an electromechanical teleprinter, in 1986 the shift was made to fax machines. Since 2008, it has been based on a secure computer link over which exchanges made by encrypted electronic messages.


Thankfully, the prospect of a looming nuclear standoff between the United Kingdom and the European Union is unlikely. However, the implications Brexit poses for hampering bi-lateral communication and cooperation between the two is not insignificant.

The UK’s exit from the European Union on 31 January this year has brought with it the end of several channels of communication. For better or worse, Britain is no longer woven into the fabric of the Brussels machinery. We no longer enjoy a seat on the European Council, we no longer put forward officials for roles within the European Commission, and we no longer have representation within the European Parliament. Formal channels between our two sides remain, for example through direct dialogue between Downing Street and key EU institutions, or via our Ambassador to the European Union, and our direct relations with individual member states. But the interconnectedness between us is gone. The greater the inevitable divergence between the UK and the European Union the more impaired communication, feedback and cooperation becomes.

COVID-19 and Eurozone Collapse

For the EU and the United Kingdom to settle into a new way of working and to forge a new cooperative partnership under normal circumstances is hard enough, but the challenges we face are unprecedented.

Coronavirus continues to take an enormous human and economic toll across the globe. But its economic implications for the Eurozone are in some ways more significant. The collapse in the price of oil combined with the crash in economic output has applied deflationary pressures to the world economy. These pressures, when mixed with the existing cocktail of challenges faced by the Eurozone, including persistent economic stagnation — particularly among ‘Club-Med’ countries, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, — and ultra-loose monetary policy, risk the longer-term ‘Japanification’ of the region characterized by anaemic growth, ineffective monetary stimulus and falling bond yields.

As our largest trading partner, the economic implications for the UK would be significant and would require the coordination of economic policy on both sides of the Channel to chart a recovery.  

A UK-EU ‘Red Phone’ for the Digital Age

With Britain no longer interwoven into the fabric of EU institutions, coordination and cooperation in our economic and political response is likely to be impaired. Modern forms of communication mean top-level dialogue among heads of state and senior officials can be maintained reasonably efficiently, but as many champions of civil service reform will attest - instruction from on top doesn’t guarantee delivery on the ground, even from within the same organisation. These challenges are amplified between different departments and bodies, even if their ultimate goals are aligned.

Helpfully, advances in technology offer hope that officials and their teams on both sides of the Channel can forge a beachhead of cooperation by pushing back the jungle of suspicion.

Dynamic Feedback Platforms (DFPs), similar in principle to those used by Uber to rate drivers and passengers can drive performance and cooperation between individuals themselves and teams, even if they’re in different organisations. Here at ViewsHub, we see the power of this technology every day. Our feedback platform allows teams in organisations across the country - and countries - to transform performance and boost cooperation through our custom-made single tracking metric: TeamScore.

Our feedback platform gives users the chance to receive real-time online feedback on their performance from multiple stakeholders, including bosses, co-workers, other teams and, crucially, teams external to their own organisation, for example between a team of civil servants working in HM Treasury and another in the European Central Bank. 

To ensure effectiveness, feedback has to be constructive, actionable, and easy to interpret. DFPs ensure quantitative score-based solutions are complemented with the option to supplement ratings with text feedback too. To maintain focus on team performance, more effective systems can frame feedback within the context of a team as a whole through the provision of a single, easy to interpret score that team members can monitor easily and in real-time. This score is based upon ratings and feedback from any of the team's key stakeholders, especially external ones. Ultimately, this ‘team score’ helps to remove silos, encourage transparency and foster collaboration.

Cooperation is also a two-way street. Each individual within a team can rate the other, including those senior to them. By giving each member of collaborating teams a voice, allowing them to be heard, while also seeing tangible improvements toward shared outcomes is an empowering enabler of cooperation.

An important lesson from the Cold War was that suspicion is a chief inhibitor to cooperation. By embracing openness and transparency among teams and their members, suspicion can be eroded and progress toward an end goal advanced. Sophisticated online feedback solutions are the ‘Red Phones’ we need for international cooperation in the twenty-first century.


Ab Banerjee is the Founder & CEO of ViewsHub

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