David Fuller's view -
We should be grateful to Sir Ivan Rogers for accidentally reminding us that we need wholesale reform of our broken Civil Service, since the cultural chasm between Whitehall and the public has grown dangerously large.
For Sir Ivan, now thankfully our outgoing ambassador to the EU, and many other mandarins of his ilk, the barbarians truly are at the gates. They now mostly realise that Brexit is going to happen, but remain desperate to find ways to blunt its implementation.
In places, Sir Ivan’s resignation email reads like a parody, a textbook illustration of the dangers of creating a permanent ruling class. At times, one could even be forgiven for believing that he saw himself as a Platonic philosopher-king, entrusted to guard the guardians and to keep those pesky politicians and voters in line, ensuring that they don’t deviate from the expert orthodoxy of the times.
Sir Ivan is one of the most powerful, unaccountable men in Britain, and yet, hilariously, sees his and his colleagues’ job as “speaking truth to power”. He cannot even bring himself to write about Brexit without using inverted commas around the word – or as Americans would put it, sneer marks. He forgets that with independence comes a duty not deliberately to undermine the Government.
His attack on “muddled thinking” – from Brexiteers in Government, presumably – is especially revealing: it is the meaningless insult favoured by the mandarin classes. The French try to dismiss arguments by deeming them “illogical”; the equivalent British put-down is haughtier, snootier and reeks of classism.
Yet Sir Ivan himself confuses opinion and facts, claiming that “contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities”. Try telling that to those who repealed the Corn Laws, or to unilateral free trading economies such as Hong Kong. Commerce is something that emerges spontaneously from the free interaction of human beings; it does not require structures. Of course, Sir Ivan is right that in the current context multilateral liberalisation deals may be the best solution to maximise overall free trade, and that these can be fiendishly complex.
But the problem is that we are asking too much of some of our civil servants, whose heart simply isn’t in Brexit. For the past 50 years or more, the British establishment’s foreign policy mission has been a united Europe. There were other major projects too, including dismantling the Empire, fighting the Cold War, helping to rebuild the free-trading international economy and signing up to a new global environmentalism. But since 1990 at least, the construction of Europe has been our most important foreign policy goal, an all-consuming project.
The Civil Service didn’t just help deliver government policy: it embraced the project. Many of its brightest minds, when exposed directly to Brussels, went native. This was not just the professionalism which sees officials nationalising firms under a Labour government before privatising them under a Tory one: it was a fundamental and permanent shift. Nation-states were out; liberal democracy was out; corporatism and rule by the technocrats were in.
The Leave side collected very few votes in Whitehall last June: the Civil Service was institutionally Europhile. Officials could barely imagine how Britain could possibly function, let alone thrive, outside of the EU.
Bizarrely, however, we are operating under the assumption that the people that have dedicated their entire working lives to promoting European integration can suddenly devote themselves to delivering the best possible Brexit. We are asking the old guard to become the revolutionaries, with immediate effect. Some can, of course, especially the younger, more ambitious officials who see how the world is changing, but not all.
Other countries don’t work this way: Barack Obama’s people are not being asked to implement Donald Trump’s plans. Instead, the president-elect is hiring 4,000 or so people. It is common in other countries for new governments to recruit large numbers of political appointees; it is also healthier as it means the government isn’t controlled by self-serving and institutionalised lifers.
This is a superb analysis by Allister Heath. I can understand why PM Theresa May did not wish to upend civil service personnel working in the EU, but she and the capable Sir David Davis should have anticipated the problem. After all, it is difficult to get someone to stop believing in something, when that person’s salary depends on them believing in it.
David Davis is Her Majesty’s Principle Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. That is a grand title for what is currently a very small department. It should be beefed up with known Eurosceptic MPs such as John Redwood, who can work with pro-Brexit Civil Servants led by Sir Tim Barrow.
I am not suggesting that they prepare for a long negotiating war on the EU’s terms, attempting to overturn their labyrinthine obstacles. Those are intended to ensure that the EU remains a club which European countries can apply to join but once in, never leave of their own choice. That is an absurdity. The future of the UK will not be decided in Brussels.
Britain needs to seize the initiative so that it can exit from the EU quickly and cleanly. The key points are not complicated. 1) Theresa May has already said that the UK must have sole control of its immigration policies and all other forms of law making. 2) The next Brexit point should be to offer the EU free trade on a take it or leave it basis, otherwise WTO rules will apply to our trade with the EU. 3) There will be no restraints on the UK’s freedom to trade with any other nations of interest, which are outside the EU’s closed shop.
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