Brexit: The law of unintended consequences strikes again

“Brexit will be biggest ever task for Whitehall, even though staffing is at lowest level since 1940s after redundancies”

” … Huge swaths of policy and legislation will need to be reconsidered and decided upon by ministers, government and parliament. All of this is required whilst maintaining our public services and carrying out business as usual.

“Many of our members have serious concerns about how we will implement this at a time of political and economic uncertainty. Many of these questions cannot be answered right now.”

The civil service is now at its smallest size since the second world war, employing about 392,000 full-time staff, according to the latest figures. It represents an 18% drop since the coalition government came to power in 2010. The government’s spending review has meant that departments have drawn up further staff cuts.

Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has called on the government to begin a rethink of government cuts to staffing levels because of Brexit.

“If they’re going to get through this mammoth negotiation, they are going to have to increase resources for a period of time – and they ought logically to put a stop on haemorrhaging people,” Lord Kerslake told the publication Civil Service World.

Senior officials believe the untangling of 40 years of EU legislation as the biggest task the civil service has ever faced. This will include deciding on what to keep, amend and reject from EU-related laws and around 13,000 regulations.

At the same time, the British government will be negotiating any new deals with the EU and the rest of the world.

Oliver Letwin, the prime minister’s close associate, is expected to coordinate the unit’s work across Whitehall.

However, former head of the civil service Lord Turnbull told the Treasury select committee on Tuesday that Letwin was “completely unsuitable to do that job in the longer term” because “he has been a kind of consigliere to the prime minister”.

Hannah Williams, the programme director from the Institute for Government, said that the government has failed to explain how the work will be completed. “The announcement today gives no further detail of how this new unit will be run, the expertise it will draw from, or how it will coordinate Whitehall’s Brexit efforts,” she said.

Olly Robbins, the civil servant who is currently responsible for policy on immigration, has been given the job of heading the new Brexit unit.

Robbins, 40, was the UK’s deputy national security adviser to the cabinet office. He told the high court in 2013 that the Guardian’s Edward Snowden revelations could lead to “widespread loss of life”. The government has not yet released proof to back up his claims. Robbins, who is second permanent secretary at the Home Office, was also accused of giving “extremely unsatisfactory” answers on the funding of the Border Force when he appeared before the Home Affairs select committee in April.

Keith Vaz, committee chairman, had asked him repeatedly whether Charles Montgomery, Border Force director-general, had been told what his budget was to be for the year ahead.”

2 thoughts on “Brexit: The law of unintended consequences strikes again

  1. This is not “the law of unintended consequences” (see below for an explanation) but the result of a complete lack of planning and forethought by the Brexit campaign.

    “The law of unintended consequences … is that actions of people – and especially of government – always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.”

    A hypothetical example of this (in the Brexit context) might be that we find that net inward migration actually increases as a result of Brexit because of something no one anticipated or could not have anticipated.

    In this case, the complexity of withdrawal is obvious and the need for beaurocrats to manage it is easily anticipated – that is can be easily anticipated by anyone with common sense who is not being highly selective with the facts (and non-facts) they publicise to support their particular agenda.

    So this is NOT an unintended consequence – it is an unplanned consequence that the Brexit camp should have anticipated.

    Let us not forget that the EU will also need an army of beaurocrats to draft the new replacement legislation – though they will likely be quite happy to stick with the existing numbers of staff and let it take several decades to achieve. In the mean time we will have lost our access to the European markets.


  2. If Brexit was intended as a negotiating tactic it will likely get voted amongst the top 10 most stupid ideas of history – that you can negotiate more successfully when outside a system than inside it. We now face experienced negotiators when we have let the EU take the lead for 40 years. Or maybe the establishment never factored in that not listening to your electorate is a sure fire method for getting it badly wrong. And that would indeed be an unintended consequence, because you set out to get a result, but find that it wasn’t the one you expected.

    A bit like expecting to make vast savings on energy bills only to find that the cost is going down and not up?


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