No Deal – A Civil Servant Breaks Ranks

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Jan 8, 2019 Comments Off on No Deal – A Civil Servant Breaks Ranks John Butler


Saturday 29th Dec 2018

The Civil Service is ready for a no deal

It is shocking that some ministers are putting civil servants like me on the

hook for political ends


Every day there is some fresh claim in the press – backed up by people who

should (and perhaps really do) know better – that we must accept whatever

outrageous terms we are offered by an intransigent EU because we are not

prepared for no deal and it would be a disaster. This line is pushed by

Remainer Cabinet ministers trying to scare us into swallowing the Withdrawal

Agreement, and their friends campaigning for a second referendum – the Work

and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd’s brother Roland prominent among them.

This is Project Fear Mark (I think) III, which claims that we will all

“crash out” over the white cliffs of Dover into the Channel at llpm on March

29 2019 and wake up to certain chaos and doom.

If true, it would be a terrible indictment not only of this Government but

also of our Civil Service. And it is absolutely untrue, as anyone who, like

me, has been involved in Brexit work for the past two-and-a-half years in

Whitehall will tell you.

It is rather shocking that not only the Remainer media but even members of

the Government are putting civil servants on the hook for their own

political purposes, by implying that they have failed in their clear duty to

prepare for eventualities.

It may be true that certain civil servants are biased in favour of the EU.

That is because continued EU membership means certainty, and civil servants

love certainty. It makes planning one’s family commitments, work-life

balance and daily commute a lot easier. Strong and stable.

Dull and secure. Plodding and punctilious. The opposite of challenging, new

and rewarding.

But that very bias towards certainty and balance and horror of disorder

makes civil servants highly conscious of their duty to keep both their

school run and the country operating smoothly. They would not sit back and

allow the British public to be threatened by economic paralysis. Nor have


The frisson of horror evoked by such a prospect would shake the corridors of

power from Westminster to Brussels. A disorderly no-deal Brexit on March 29

is not compatible with the principles of good government in which the Civil

Service takes justified pride. It handles seismic change in much the same

way as it handles a decision on the design of a new online form or whether

to allow pot plants in the staff kitchen – in a very deliberate, considered,

consultative manner.

Of course no-deal preparations have been made. Very detailed plans have been

proposed, assessed, analysed to death and finally agreed by working groups

and steering groups and directors’ boards and cross-Whitehall talking shops.

They have then been sent to ministers for approval. And they are now being


To claim otherwise is to equate the United Kingdom with a tinpot

dictatorship where officials tote machine guns and use pot plants for target

practice. And we would never allow that.

It is even more ridiculous that this claim of unpreparedness is still being

parroted across the media and by MPs when some of the most crucial elements

of no-deal planning have now been made public. In a very surreptitious way,

of course. Almost as though the Government didn’t want even its own

backbenchers to know.

While things were hotting up in the Commons over the Withdrawal Agreement

before Parliament rose for Christmas, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs made

important no-deal customs regulations and wrote to businesses advising them

on the new procedures for import and export from March 29, with links to

guidance and even to application forms for grants to help with IT upgrades

and staff training. Just-in-time importers are also being advised to

register now as Trusted Traders, in order to benefit from simplified customs


Job advertisements for customs warehouse officers at an inland clearance

site in Milton Keynes have gone live, too. This is so that lorries can be

diverted away from the Channel ports for targeted checks. The European Union

and various member states have also announced bilateral arrangements for

euro clearing and financial services, for visa-free tourist travel, and for

aviation rights.

The French have installed high-tech freight scanners at Calais to keep trade

and tourism flowing. Open Skies agreements have been signed with our most

important aviation partners, the US and Canada. Further agreements are

planned. And we have just agreed the transition of a trade agreement with

Switzerland, which will allow businesses to carry on trading freely after

our country leaves the European Union.

There are hundreds of such no-deal plans across all government departments

just waiting for the green light from ministers to be made public. There are

more bilateral “managed WTO” agreements on the horizon and a rapid

acceleration of work in the Civil Service to deliver a no-deal Brexit.

An enormous effort by thousands of hard-working civil servants has been made

to ensure that if we leave the EU without a deal, “crashing out” over a

“cliff edge” is simply not going to be an option, and it is purely a

political decision not to make this clear to the public and nervous

backbench MPs.

But if the Government was to be frank with Parliament and the country, what

justfication would be left for its disastrous Withdrawal Agreement? What

would Remainers do without a Project Fear? They would need to think up

convincing positive arguments for staying in the EU, something that has so

far proved beyond them.

The author is a serving civil servant engaged in preparing the UK/or a

Brexit on WTO rules after March 29 2019.

She therefore writes under a pseudonym.