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I’ve been surprised how useless the civil service have been during the negotiations

16 March 2019

7:30 AM

16 March 2019

7:30 AM

Obviously the Prime Minister herself bears chief responsibility for Brexit mistakes, but she must have been terribly badly advised throughout, not only by political staff — who always get it in the neck when things go wrong — but by the professional civil service, which tends to escape censure. I have been genuinely surprised by the bureaucrats’ uselessness in the negotiations.

In my Thatcher studies, now drawing peacefully to their close, I find that the mandarinate, though out of sympathy with Mrs Thatcher, did, on the whole, do its best for her. It was excited by the possibilities she opened up, and enjoyed surmounting the various crises. People like Anthony Parsons, Nico Henderson, Percy Cradock, Terry Burns, Peter Middleton, Robert Armstrong, Robin Butler, Richard Wilson, Antony Acland, Robin Renwick, Crispin Tickell and, in a very different way, Charles Powell, did great things for her administrations. Even wicked old John Kerr, still working flat out against our national independence, was a subtle negotiator in her time.

But what was poor Sir Jeremy Heywood or Olly Robbins or dismal Philip Hammond’s dismal Treasury doing to surmount problems or create opportunity in the last two years? Our departments of state have lost much expertise, impartiality and professionalism since the Blair cultural revolution. It is showing now. Some top Remainer public servants — Mark Carney, Alex Younger of MI6 — have actually had their terms extended to ensure ‘continuity’ through Brexit. We don’t want continuous negativity.

This article is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator Notes, which appeared in this week’s magazine


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