Theresa May should wind down Dominic Raab's new ministry as soon as possibleby Andrew Greenway / July 11, 2018 / Leave a comment
Government departments have permanence baked into them. But apart from a few great offices of state — the Treasury, the Foreign Office, the Home Office — many end up as flashes in the pan. Vultures are already circling over the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU). This does not come as a surprise. This is a department that should never have been formed in the first place.
So why was DExEU created? A large part of the answer is institutional habit. Whitehall rearranges departments more often than most of us rearrange our living rooms. With its new logo, website and doorplate the new Department of Pencils may appear to be made out of rock-solid marble. Yet as the political waters close in, it turns out to have been fashioned out of Rennies.
One problem that arises from the chaos of throwing together large organisations at speed is the human casualties on the way. Recent figures from the Institute for Government put DExEU at the bottom of Whitehall’s staff wellbeing charts. No other department reported greater staff anxiety; only the perennially grumpy HMRC and Ministry of Defence were less satisfied with life in general. Lest anyone think this comes down to officials acting up as a bunch of grumpy liberal elites, the Department for International Trade, DExEU’s Brexit sibling, comes top on an average of the same measures.
The case against DExEU does not begin and end with the fact it made some civil servants angry and anxious. The bigger problem for the department is that there was never a coherent argument for creating an organisation with the trappings of a ministry in the first place.
However interminable the process may seem, Britain will only leave the EU once. Parliamentary sovereignty may return, but the basic policy choices a UK government has to wrestle with will remain largely the same as before. Departments which have long been charged with addressing those choices — on the environment, business, transport, and so on — will carry on doing so. They already have the experience, expertise and relationships. The areas where DExEU might have had a small chance of building a permanent toe-hold are those where maintaining relations with the EU is basically an end in itself. Before DExEU was created, these jobs were largely the domain of the Foreign Office, plus…