Theresa May's Brexit department plan has "serious operational drawbacks", warn experts

Written by Matt Foster on 12 July 2016 in News
News

Institute for Government warns of "time, cost and distraction that would inevitably come from creating an entirely new organisation"

Britain's incoming prime minister has said only a special Brexit department can give "significant expertise and a consistent approach" to the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. Image: PA

Theresa May's pledge to set up a dedicated Brexit department could eat up valuable time and resources and prove a "distraction" from the urgent business of negotiating Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, the Institute for Government has warned.

May will become Britain's new leader on Wednesday after David Cameron fields his final round of prime minister's questions. She has already promised to establish a special Whitehall ministry focused on taking the UK out of the EU, to be led by a dedicated cabinet minister who is able to provide "significant expertise and a consistent approach" to Brexit.

Such a move would represent a significant step up from the immediate response to the EU vote, which has seen a cross-government team of civil servants established in the Cabinet Office under the political direction of minister Oliver Letwin.


IfG: Whitehall restructures must be more focused
Civil service Brexit unit: departments must be ready to give up staff to new EU team, says DCLG chief Melanie Dawes
Theresa May pledges Brexit department – as Boris Johnson withdrawal boosts her chances of being next PM


But a new report by the IfG's Jill Rutter and Julian McCrae says May's preferred option may have to be phased in to avoid significant disruption. 

While Rutter and McCrae back the case for a senior Cabinet minister to be appointed in order to do "much of the heavy lifting" for May on Brexit, the think tank says much will ride on whether she wants to put that colleague in charge of withdrawal negotiations or give them a wider policy remit, perhaps including trade.

If their remit is confined solely to Brexit talks, the IfG says there is an "overwhelming case" for the new minister to be supported by a smaller Cabinet Office team, keeping them close to Number 10 and in touch with the existing EU-focused parts of government.

But if the Brexit minister has wider responsibility for policy areas, Rutter and McCrae say there is "a stronger case for creating a fully-fledged Ministry for Brexit" along the lines proposed by May.

"However, there are serious operational drawbacks to this option – in particular the time, cost and distraction that would inevitably come from creating an entirely new organisation," they warn. "These would have to be carefully weighed against any perceived benefits."

"New departments should only be created where there is an irrefutable business case that this is the best option and adequate advance planning has been undertaken" – Institute for Government

The think tank acknowledges that a new ministry of Brexit could provide a "durable, long-term home" for a minister should they be given wider policy responsibilities, and says having dedicated secretary of state could give European Union issues real clout around the Cabinet table.

However, the report's authors warn that setting up a new department would cost money and take time, adding: "New departments should only be created where there is an irrefutable business case that this is the best option and adequate advance planning has been undertaken."

Churn warning

The IfG points out that civil servants may also be reluctant to make the leap to a new department "that could have a limited shelf life", and say that the dedicated ministry would have to quickly establish new relationships with existing Cabinet Office EU teams, meaning it would be "slower to get off the ground".

It also suggests that the civil service would need "new forms of flexible contracts" to allow people with the skills needed to negotiate Brexit to enter the workforce "quickly and for variable periods".

"The ability to retain people will also be crucial – the civil service generally, and the Cabinet Office in particular, suffer from high levels of churn."

The IfG has previously highlighted the upheaval that creating new departments can cause, saying that past attempts to restructure Whitehall – such as New Labour's ill-fated Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, set up to create a ministerial home for deputy prime minister John Prescott – had focused too much on “party-political” goals, and had failed to address long-standing problems with the way the civil service is run.

Shadow civil service minister Louise Haigh has also urged caution on a re-jig of the machinery of government, joining those – including former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake – who have warned that the civil service already faces the prospect of untangling the UK's relationship with the EU while delivering on tight spending settlements.

"Departments need to ask very seriously whether now is really the time to lead an introspective and cross-departmental reorganisation" – Labour's Louise Haigh

"The budget cuts pencilled in will mean the civil service will face up to massed ranks of the Brussels bureaucracy in prolonged negotiations with one hand tied behind their backs and while colleagues around them are being made redundant," she said.

"And departments such as BIS [Business, Innovation and Skills], which will be leading our new global trade relationships need to ask very seriously whether now is really the time to lead an introspective and cross-departmental reorganisation when they should be focussed on getting the best possible deal for Britain."

"Cost and distraction"

Speaking last month, Melanie Dawes, chair of the civil service people board said departments must not “hunker down” as the EU withdrawal process called for the "brightest and best" officials to lend their skills to Brexit.

And she called on civil service leaders to be open to the idea of losing their top staff to the effort.

"I think we’ve got to be collective and be brave and come together," said Dawes, who is also permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Launching the report, McCrae, the IfG's deputy director, said planning for and delivering Britain's exit from the EU would "inevitably preoccupy Whitehall and the new government in the coming months and years".

"Theresa May will soon be deciding how to organise Whitehall to negotiate and implement Britain’s exit from the EU," he added.

"The arguments point strongly to appointing a dedicated Cabinet Minister for Brexit, based in the Cabinet Office. If the new PM does decide to create a new ministry, then this should be housed in the Cabinet Office initially, to avoid the vital first few months being dominated by the cost and distraction of setting up a new organisation from scratch.”

About the author

Matt Foster is CSW's deputy editor. He tweets as @CSWDepEd

Share this page

Further reading in our policy hubs

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Comments

Evan M. Jones (not verified)

Submitted on 12 July, 2016 - 12:45
Challenges, yes, but drawbacks is overstating it. Rutter and McCrae themselves agree that there is, "a stronger case [than for just a CO team] for creating a fully-fledged Ministry". Set against the alternatives there's no real option other than to bring a significant dedicated team together under a dedicated Minister. Problems by the bucket load: staffing; resourcing; organising; liaison with other departments; and all that while simultaneously starting to address the Brexit issues themselves. Not an easy thing to do by any stretch but if we're going to make this happen to Britain's best advantage the full-on approach is the only one that gives us a decent chance.

Peter Lockyer (not verified)

Submitted on 13 July, 2016 - 09:11
I don't share the negative and fearful views in this article. There are civil servants I am sure, and I am one of them, who are nearing the end of their career and would be proud to help our country at this difficult time and make the leap into any new organisation that can use whatever gifts, skills and talents they have. Brexit will be tough, but provides us with a brilliant opportunity to show what the civil service can achieve, even after years of dispiriting cuts and lack of career opportunities for many of us.

John Mayor (not verified)

Submitted on 17 July, 2016 - 01:53
THE BREXIT NEVERENDTODUMB _______________ T-H-E B-R-E-X-I-T R-E-F-E-R-E-N-D-U-M I-S D-E-A-D!!... and the Google results, titled, "The EU referendum is not legally binding and can't force a Brexit", and, "Can the law stop Brexit? - BBC News", explains why! ----- This Brexit vote-- technically speaking!-- is NON-BINDING on Britain's Parliament!!... AND!... THE OUTGOING BRITISH PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON MUST HAVE KNOWN THIS! And so... I'm been wondering if his "public deference" to the "PUBLIC OUTCOME" of the Brexit Referendum was/ is a ruse/ red herring on the part of Cameron-- and his Cabinet!-- in an underhanded attempt to get out of the EU! For!... all David Cameron needed to have said publicly "pre-Brexit (and for Theresa May to say now!)" is to have expressed his rejection of the results of this "Public Referendum (as Parliaments have often done in history!)"!... and to have proceeded with the "business as usual" activities of the British Parliament! Otherwise!... one has to wonder why David Cameron would adopt this result, when he has every reason-- and power!-- NOT to capitulate to the outcome of this said, "Public Referendum (and ditto, for Theresa May!)"! And so... and to play the "conscionable advocate"!... he gets to have "the people" do his "dirty work" of leaving the EU, while-- all the while!-- he can say, "I did my best to stay!" ...and then prepare for his future position as whatever! Interesting!... and this begs three questions: 1) Is David Cameron so dumb, as to not know of his-- and Parliament's!-- power concerning this "Public Referendum"?; 2) Who within the "effectual inner circle" of the British Parliament-- and apart from Prime Minister David Cameron and his former cabinet!-- was/ were anxious to have, and "instrumental" in facilitating, Britain's "certain departure" from the EU?; and 3) Was there some publicly undisclosed ECONOMIC GAIN to be had, in orchestrating a FAUX PUBLIC REFERENDUM (for example, the gains-- and losses!-- evidenced in the subsequent flurry of Buying and Selling, post the June 23rd Brexit result!), that would favor "CERTAIN INTERESTS" in the "economic aftermath" of a "Brexit win"? And!... in light of my "inclinations" re my "internal response" to these just enumerated questions, I'm now wondering if this is a "BREXITGATE"/ "CAMERONGATE"!... YEA, "MAYGATE"!... in the making! But!... if it all comes down to David Cameron being that dumb!... then!... it was the best thing for Britain, for David Cameron to have stepped down from his Prime Ministerial role! Nevertheless!... whether dumb, or not!... and despite Cameron's departure, and May's arrival!... the British Parliament has every power and authority to quash this quashable proffered "Public Referendum" result! ----- But leaving these just cited D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S R-E-V-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S aside!... there are a few Brexit details that most wanna-be and would-be supporters of "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y" should be made aware of! And!... the question to be asked, is:... DID MOST BRITONS ACTUALLY DESIRE A YES!.. OR NO!... ON E-I-T-H-E-R S-I-D-E OF THIS EU DEBATE? ----- If I may!... I would like us to reflect on what's really happened here!... and, on what really counts! Was this "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C V-O-T-E" more "P-S-E-U-D-O-D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C" and "P-S-E-U-D-O-C-R-A-T-I-C", than "EU_PHORO_CRITIC"?... and!... did the "T-R-U-E M-A-J-O-R-I-T-Y" of the people of Briton find their "wills" reflected in this "debate"?... or!... were their "wills", in fact-- and in many cases!-- N-O-W-H-E-R-E T-O B-E F-O-U-N-D? ----- How is it "DEMOCRATIC"-- e.g.!-- when the Brexit Referendum "win" of Thursday, June 23rd, 2016, was "W-O-N" WITHOUT the E-S-S-E-N-T-I-A-L M-I-N-I-M-U-M of 50+% of the T-O-T-A-L N-U-M-B-E-R of ELIGIBLE BRITISH VOTERS' VOTES?... AND!... NOT JUST, by way of a majority of those who've decided to cast a vote! In other words, how can L-E-S-S than the ESSENTIAL MINIMUM of 50+% of the TOTAL NUMBER of eligible British voters' votes, constitute a "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C P-L-U-R-A-L-I-T-Y"? It is-- de facto!-- I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E (i.e., without God!)! And thus, the Brexit vote is a further example of a "P-S-E-U-D-O-D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C P-S-E-U-D-O-P-L-U-R-A-L-I-T-Y", "winning the day"! ----- To compare the Brexit Referendum to an election of a candidate within a Electoral District... if fifty thousand eligible voters decide not to vote in a District that is composed/ comprised of one hundred thousand eligible voters... and five candidates are running!... the math would suggest, that no candidate could possibly obtain a "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C P-L-U-R-A-L-I-T-Y" from the remaining fifty thousand eligible voters who have cast a vote! Unless!... and of course!... A H-I-J-A-C-K-E-D, AND E-L-I-T-I-S-T P-O-L-I-T-I-C-A-L P-R-O-C-E-S-S, SIMPLY MARGINALIZES THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SHOWN UP TO VOTE!... AND!... DICTATES, THAT THEIR "NO SHOW"/ ABSENCE, CANNOT-- AND SHOULD NOT!-- BE HELD "B-I-N-D-I-N-G" IN SOME FASHION, OR FORM (AND SOME "NO SHOWS" ARE AS SUCH, DUE TO DISABILITY, AND/ OR INFIRMITY!... NOT TO MENTION, THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN SYSTEMICALLY AND SYSTEMATICALLY DISCRIMINATED AGAINST, DUE TO THEIR Y-O-U-T-H!)! FOR!... OUT OF SIGHT, IS OUT OF MIND! ----- Simply put!... and to return to the Brexit Referendum!... the said total of 17,410,742. "winning" "pro Brexit" British voters, plus the said total of 16,141,242. "losing" "pro Bremain" eligible British voters, who-- together!-- showed up at the "Referendum ballot boxes (i.e., 33,551,984 eligible British voters!)", in contrast to the ACTUAL TOTAL of 46,499,537 eligible British voters (see Google result, Electoral Commission | Provisional electorate figures published!... AND LET ALONE, THE HIGHER ACTUAL TOTAL NUMBER OF ELIGIBLE VOTERS' VOTES TO BE HAD, IF MANY OF THE DISABLED/ INFIRMED BRITISH CITIZENS WERE "ACCOMMODATED"!... AND!... IF MANY BRITISH YOUTH WEREN'T THE TARGETS OF "P-O-L-I-T-I-C-A-L A-N-D S-O-C-I-A-L P-A-T-E-R-N-A-L-I-S-T-I-C A-G-E-I-S-M"!), reveals a deficit of 12,947,553. of the ACTUAL TOTAL NUMBER of eligible British voters, and a deficit of 5,839,027. eligible British voters, for even a "B-A-R-E M-I-N-I-M-U-M M-A-J-O-R-I-T-Y W-I-N (i.e., 46,499,537. ÷ 2 = 23,249,768.5... + .5 = [23,249,769.] - 17,410,742. = 5,839,027.!)"!... AND THEREFORE, THE COMBINED "WINNERS" AND "LOSERS" TALLY OF ELIGIBLE VOTERS, S-H-O-U-L-D N-O-T B-E M-A-D-E S-Y-N-O-N-Y-M-O-U-S W-I-T-H T-H-E A-C-T-U-A-L T-O-T-A-L- N-U-M-B-E-R O-F E-L-I-G-I-B-L-E B-R-I-T-I-S-H V-O-T-E-R-S/ V-O-T-E-S!... AND!... THE "WINNING TALLY", S-H-O-U-L-D N-O-T B-E M-A-D-E S-Y-N-O-N-Y-M-O-U-S W-I-T-H T-H-E "M-A-J-O-R-I-T-Y W-I-L-L" O-F T-H-E E-L-I-G-I-B-L-E V-O-T-E-R-S O-F B-R-I-T-A-I-N! AND!... THEREFORE!... THE "WINNING TALLY" OF ELIGIBLE BRITISH VOTERS-- AT LEAST!-- SHOULD BE MET WITH A C-O-N-S-T-I-T-U-T-I-O-N-A-L C-H-A-L-L-E-N-G-E (TO START!) FOR THE FLAGRANT BREACH OF THE "L-E-G-I-T-I-M-A-T-E P-R-I-N-C-I-P-L-E-S" O-F D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y (I.E., AND E.G., IN THE F-A-I-L-U-R-E OF THIS BREXIT REFERENDUM RESULT TOTAL, TO ACHIEVE EVEN A BARE MINIMUM MAJORITY TALLY, FOR A 'M-A-J-O-R-I-T-Y W-I-N'!)"! ----- And so!... the Brexit "win"... like the "wins" seen so often in our PSEUDODEMOCRATIC PSEUDOELECTIONS!... is a S-H-A-M!! And!... it escapes me, why citizens from respective "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-I-E-S" from around the world, haven't challenged these scurrilous, and shameful "F-A-U-X P-U-B-L-I-C R-E-F-E-R-E-N-D-A"!... AND PSEUDOELECTIONS!... AND!... haven't brought civil proceedings against any and all institutions, which have allowed these G-L-O-B-A-L F-A-R-C-E-S to continue! And thus!... and re the Brexit Referendum result!... it is my contention, that the Brexit Referendum is D-E-F-E-A-T-A-B-L-E, due to it's inherent S-Y-S-T-E-M-I-C V-I-O-L-A-T-I-O-N of the "L-E-G-I-T-I-M-A-T-E P-R-I-N-C-I-P-L-E-S" OF DEMOCRACY! ----- This horrendous situation involving our PSEUDODEMOCRATIC PSEUDOELECTIONS, has resulted in "winning candidates" winning with as little as 1/5th of the total number of eligible voters' votes!... AND!... THEN DARING, TO CALL SUCH RESPECTIVE "WINS", D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C! AND W-O-R-S-E!... and in the case of the Brexit Referendum result!... AND "PSEUDOWIN"!... such a "W-I-N" could-- POTENTIALLY!-- compromise the security of an E-N-T-I-R-E N-A-T-I-O-N! And, it's no wonder why so many citizens within our respective "democracies (so-called!)" hate the elections process!... and hate, Public Referenda! ----- And!... to add Elections insult to Elections injury, there are "Parties" within countries... and again, composed of "winning candidates" who have "won" with LESS than the ESSENTIAL MINIMUM needed for a DEMOCRATIC PLURALITY!... whose leadership (e.g., in Canada!), cannot be chosen D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C-A-L-L-Y by the PEOPLE!... and O-N-L-Y, by the Party! And further, rather than have the brightest!... the best!... "winning candidates" from all across a country-- and, from across a legislature's floor!-- forming Executive Cabinets (and in Canada!... for example!... composed of Ministers of Federal Departments, or Provincial Ministries!)!... A-N-D T-H-R-O-U-G-H A N-O-N P-A-R-T-Y_B-A-S-E-D L-E-G-I-S-L-A-T-U-R-E O-R P-A-R-L-I-A-M-E-N-T (and something that municipalities have been doing for generations!... W-O-R-L-D-W-I-D-E)!... our current "PARTY-BASED DEMOCRACIES" have chosen, instead-- A-N-D V-I-R-T-U-A-L-L-Y!-- GANGS, CLIQUES, AND "P-S-E-U-D-O-S-O-C-I-A-L I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T-S", TO ACT AS "GO-BETWEENS" FOR PARTY-BASED "OLIGARCHIC BACKROOM BOYZ"! ----- But!... if all of this wasn't bad enough, there's no "NONE OF THE ABOVE" option on voters' ballots (AND "B-I-N-D-I-N-G"!... AS A PREREQUISITE!)!... nor, an "AUTOMATIC TRANSLATION" of the "NO SHOWS (i.e., eligible voters who have NOT cast a vote!)" to "B-I-N-D-I-N-G" "NONE OF THE ABOVE BALLOTS (inasmuch, as such 'NO SHOWS', can't be translated as being 'F-O-R', any candidate!)"! (BUT!... PLEASE NOTE!... IF OUR "NO SHOWS" AS SUCH, ARE DUE TO OUR P-O-L-I-T-I-C-A-L A-N-D S-O-C-I-A-L I-N-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y-- O-R, U-N-W-I-L-L-I-N-G-N-E-S-S!-- TO ADDRESS THE VOTER NEEDS OF OUR DISABLED/ INFIRMED!... AND, OUR YOUTH!... THEN SUCH "INABLED", OR "UNWILLING", SHOULD BE "HELPED" RE THEIR "INABILTY"!... OR HELD TO ACCOUNT FOR THEIR "UNWILLINGNESS"!) And, had the "NONE OF THE ABOVE" and the "TRANSLATED NO SHOW" provisions been addressed, many "NO SHOWS" would have shown up to vote (for fear of receiving a MANADATED "BINDING" "AUTOMATIC TRANSLATION"!)! And!... if combined "NO SHOW TRANSLATIONS", together with directly cast "NONE OF THE ABOVE BALLOTS", were implemented (wherein-- TOGETHER!-- these OUTNUMBER the votes cast for any respective "running candidate"!), this tally could have meant the introduction of "lottery lists" of candidates within Districts (preselected!... and the members in which, would not be eligible to run as "running candidates"!)!... from which, our "winners" could have then been chosen! And thereby!... EFFECTING FULL REPRESENTATION FOR EVERY SINGLE ELIGIBLE VOTER, AND VOTE! ----- And!... to juxtapose the just aforesaid template onto Referenda!... and onto the Brexit Referendum, in particular!... if the directly cast "NONE OF THE ABOVE BALLOTS", combined with the "TRANSLATED NO SHOWS", OUTWEIGHED the votes cast for either the Brexit or Bremain scenarios, then NEITHER Brexit, nor Bremain, would be left on the table! And the MPs of the British Parliament, would then be forced to renew their respective approaches, and collective approach, re their "arrangement" with the EU, and their respective dialogues, and collective dialogue, with the citizens of Britain! ----- And given, and in contrast to the abovenoted!... in the light of the process that was implementated for the Brexit Referendum (yet to be revealed!)!... WELL!... you have the makings of a P-O-O-R E-X-C-U-S-E F-O-R A D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C R-E-F-E-R-E-N-D-U-M!... A-N-D A P-O-O-R "R-A-T-I-O-N-A-L B-A-S-I-S" F-O-R T-H-E R-E-D-I-R-E-C-T-I-O-N O-F T-H-E F-U-T-U-R-E C-O-U-R-S-E F-O-R A-N E-N-T-I-R-E C-O-U-N-T-R-Y!! ----- To sum up, what we have, presently, are PSEUDODEMOCRATIC PLURALITIES IN THE GUISE OF "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C-A-L-L-Y E-L-E-C-T-E-D" REPRESENTATIVES! An intolerable situation!... and deserving of both constitutional challenges, and civil lawsuits! And!... A-N-Y O-T-H-E-R ACCEPTED PLURALITY OTHER THAN A "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-I-C P-L-U-R-A-L-I-T-Y" ACCEPTED BY A PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATE, AND/ OR BY A PROSPECTIVE VOTER (AND BASED UPON THE "LEGITIMATE PRINCIPLES" OF DEMOCRACY, AS AFOREMENTIONED!... AND OTHER, THAN ONE INSTITUTED BY GOD!)!-- IS A CANDIDATE, OR VOTER, WHO IS EITHER BLIND TO THE "LEGITIMATE PRINCIPLES" OF DEMOCRACY, OR WHO IS A TRAITOR TO THE "LEGITIMATE PRINCIPLES" OF DEMOCRACY! AND!... WHO IS EITHER BLIND, OR A TRAITOR, TO THE COMMON GOOD OF THE PEOPLE! ----- THEREFORE, THE "JUST ESTABLISHMENT" OF "T-R-U-E" DEMOCRATIC PLURALITIES WITHIN OUR RESPECTIVE REFERENDA, AND ELECTIONS PROCESSES, IS F-U-N-D-A-M-E-N-T-A-L TO THE VERY REALIZATION OF "D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y"!... AND!... WITHOUT WHICH, WE ARE SUBJECT TO MERE OLIGARCHIC WHIM! ----- And so... before we concern ourselves with the myriad of "potential implications" of the-- I suggest, bogus!-- Brexit result!... and Theresa May's "post Brexit" politics (Economic, and otherwise!)!... let's await the FINAL RESOLVE!... vested in the hand's of Britain's Parliament, and its Parliamentarians! But!... please also be aware!... that there are also "post-Brexit" petitions, and other legal maneuvers, in the works! ----- Please!... no emails!

Contact the author

The contact details for the Civil Service World editorial team are available on our About Us page.

Related Articles

Bank of England chief economist to lead industrial strategy watchdog

8 October 2018

Haldane's appointment "will give the council authority and independence", business secretary...

Rail regulator makes tracks to BEIS

3 October 2018

Whittington will start as director general, energy and security at BEIS on Friday

HMRC told to clarify no-deal Brexit cost projections

21 September 2018

Parliamentary committee calls for detailed breakdown on £18bn annual-cost-to-business figure as...

Related Sponsored Articles