Yes, Minister – but are concerns over civil service attitude to Brexit justified?

Lord Lawson of Blaby served as chancellor between 1983-89 [Image: BBC].

It depends on your priorities with regard to Europe.

Certainly the civil service may be uneasy about Brexit as it would make UK foreign policy objectives harder to achieve – especially if they really are as described by Sir Humphrey Appleby in the legendary sitcom Yes, Minister:

“The Civil Service was united in its desire to ensure the Common Market didn’t work. That’s why we went into it.”

“Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years – to create a disunited Europe.”

“Divide and rule. Why should we change now, when it’s worked so well?”

“We tried to break it up from the outside, but that didn’t work. Now that we’re on the inside, we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing!”

Now we’re going back to being on the outside, and – no matter whether politicians and civil servants really do want to break up the EU or not – our foreign policy objectives will become much harder to achieve. EU nations will view us with distrust – the Quitters of Europe.

But it seems wrong – to This Writer – to suggest that the civil service would actively try to spoil Brexit. It doesn’t have to.

All anybody has to do is wait.

If events tick along according to ministers’ – and permanent secretaries’ – desires, then all well and good.

If not, then the nation will get a sobering lesson in what happens when we deliberately decide to have less influence in the world.

Either way, the civil service wins – because government will always need somebody to do the actual work.

Civil servants will “do their best to frustrate” Brexit, Lord Lawson has said in an interview with BBC Newsnight.

The former chancellor said Whitehall felt uneasy about Brexit because it represented radical change.

His remarks highlight unease in the cabinet at the civil service’s handling of Brexit.

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood responded by saying that the civil service prided itself on supporting the mandate of the government of the day.

Source: Civil servants want to ‘frustrate Brexit’

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