The expression of regret came on the BBC’s Newsnight programme more than two years after the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Exit polls suggested Remain had won by a narrow margin but the opposite turned out to be the case: Leave triumphed by 51.9% to 48.1%, with more than 30 million people voting.
On Newsnight Mr Osborne was reminded that he and Mr Cameron – who resigned as PM a few days after the vote – had fought a negative campaign.
Dubbed “Project Fear”, it focused largely on the economic cost of leaving the EU. According to Mr Osborne, jobs would be lost and living standards would plummet, and it would take years for Britain to recover.
One of the key issues in the referendum was immigration and the claim that freedom of movement within the EU gave the UK no control over its borders.
Mr Osborne said the government should have spoken more about the “value of immigration” and point out that 1.2 million Brits lived and worked in EU countries.
He also regretted taking so long to stress the benefits of EU membership, saying it had been a mistake “to play into the debate that everything that Brussels did was a challenge and a battle and was wrong”.
Too little too late?
Mr Osborne’s Brexit apology was welcomed but the fact remains it has come extremely late and will do little, if anything, to enhance his reputation in the eyes of many.
The lesson is: if you make a costly mistake, don’t go into denial or try to cover it up – own up straight away and make a genuine apology, genuine being the key word here.
Why? Because if you don’t look or sound as if you mean it, no-one will believe you and you’ll risk causing even more damage to your reputation.
Which is the very last thing you or your organisation will want.
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