The recently-published sectoral analyses apparently prepared by the Department for Exiting the European Union have been received with an avalanche of ridicule. As if some of the content were not banal enough (for example the unsurprising claim that fishing is concentrated in coastal towns), it’s now become clear that some passages were lifted directly from Wikipedia.
As someone who was for many years a civil servant at the DfT, it seems just incredible to me that they have been written by civil servants. You don’t have to be a fan of Yes, Minister to realise that civil servants have a lot of intellectual pride, as well as being proud of their drafting skills. Within the Civil Service drafts are circulated, corrected, refined – and signed off at a suitably senior level, especially if they are going to Ministers, or for publication. I just cannot see any way in which these “analyses” – which are actually nothing of the sort – could have been produced by the Civil Service that I knew and recognised. Civil Servants have their faults, but most of them have the ability to sniff out a piece of intellectual garbage a mile off.
So: either, in the few years since I retired from the Service, either standards have collapsed completely or – more probably – these were written by somebody else. To me, they read like the hastily cobbled-together thoughts of special advisers, working in blind panic against a ridiculous deadline. They do not offer any real analysis at all, no quantification of the likely effects of different scenarios. It really begs exactly what work was done before Parliament voted and the Speaker instructed that the analyses be released. It makes a mockery of David Davis’ claim that the work had been done in “excruciating detail”.
And this matters, not just because it speaks of a corruption of the process of Government; it matters because of the hubris of a Government that believes that it can get away with serving up this kind of dross. It matters because it smacks of an over-mighty executive that can treat Parliament and those who elect it with open contempt, and is all of a piece with Michael Gove’s dismissal of “experts”.
And it matters, above all, because the whole principle that Ministers are guided by the impartial and objective and intellectually rigorous advice of officials appears to have been abandoned for Brexit, to be replaced by what appear to be the ramblings of special advisers who owe their loyalty to the Ministers of the day. And, whatever one thinks of the Civil Service, that’s a pretty fundamental change to the way Government works. And it’s difficult to see how that can be a change for the better.