A Rolls Royce being driven by drunksby Anand Menon / September 1, 2017 / Leave a comment
A picture, they say, paints a thousand words. And a recent—much discussed—photo certainly seemed to bear this out. A shot of David Davis sitting opposite his EU counterparts at the launch of Brexit negotiations on 17th July caused something of a twitter storm. Conservative columnist Fraser Nelson hit out at the amount of paperwork EU officials had taken to a welcome meeting. Others moaned that the picture revealed the UK’s lack of preparation, a claim taken up in a piece in the Guardian, while the Huffington Post went to town on David Brent comparisons.
Clearly, the picture itself told us nothing whatsoever about the government’s preparedness or otherwise for Brexit. But it has contributed to an increasingly widespread notion that the UK is simply not ready for the negotiations and their aftermath. Michel Barnier’s comments that there had been “no decisive progress” in the latest round of talks did little to dispel the concern. At the core of this discussion is a question mark over the preparedness of the machinery of government to handle this gargantuan task.
Britain’s ability to negotiate depends on a number of things. Some of these are beyond our control. In essence, the European Union is following a tried and tested formula. It has vast experience of negotiating with third parties. In contrast, this is a wholly new experience for the UK. No country has left the EU before, so it is hardly unreasonable that, to date, the British approach has been somewhat hesitant. We can expect this to change as the negotiations progress. And, indeed, London has begun to publish a series of position papers designed to spell out what it is seeking to achieve.
Even these, however, have led to much criticism about the government’s unrealistic claims. And it is not clear whether these are papers intended to assuage public concerns or to set the parameters for the talks. The papers on Ireland and the customs union certainly smacked of the former.
But does this mean that Britain is simply not up to the task ahead? Key to the success of the undertaking will be the civil service. And Brexit represents, in the words of the Cabinet Secretary, a challenge for that service with few, if any, comparisons…