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Dame Lucy explains why Brexit is so complicated

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 22:32
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I thought my source of leaks from deep in the official government machine had dried up. I was delighted and surprised to be sent an undercover copy of the latest instructions from Dame Lucy Doolittle to her team, and reproduce it here as I think it deserves a wider circulation. She has written:

“It is most important we provide a good service to the new government. They have been swept into office on the back of the disruption caused by the unexpected vote in the referendum. They had to set up a new unit to deal with the aftermath, and we should co-operate with the Brexit department within the Cabinet Office.

We must also understand as independent civil servants that it remains our duty to set out the many unfortunate and difficult consequences of the referendum outcome. We need to stress to Ministers that the UK has many and complex arrangements with the EU and all its member states. It will take us time to do a professional job mapping all the Directives, Regulations, ECJ Court judgements, EU bodies, budgets and grant programmes that have a bearing on the UK. We need to stop Ministers rushing headlong into an Article 50 letter and rapid negotiations, given the enormous complexity of our deep and wide ranging relationship with the EU. We have worked tirelessly for many years to ensure the UK does participate fully in the single market, in the large legislative programme, and the many pan EU initiatives from Open Skies through the Common Fishing Policy to the Competition regime. I would be grateful for you all to advise me of the many other areas of joint policy and EU jurisdiction.

Ministers need to be told that they must not press ahead all the time there are court actions over the legality of sending any Article 50 letter. Even if the court finds in the government’s favour, we need to be ready for an appeal which will delay matters further.

We have been asked to work on a Great Repeal Bill to remove the powers of the EU enshrined in the 1972 Act. We need to remind Ministers that the UK has Treaty obligations regardless of the Act, and that they must follow the process set out in Article 50 anyway. We need to warn Ministers that a Repeal Bill cannot be short and based on principles. It will have to be more detailed, listing all the relevant Regulations and court judgements, and going into detail about replacement regimes in agriculture, fishing, competition law, aviation and many other areas which will need certainty. None of this can be done quickly. I can see this lasting up to the next election if we are to do it thoroughly.

There are those who argue the Repeal Act can be short and simple because the 1972 Act to take us into the EEC was itself principles based and short. This is a misunderstanding of the position. The UK was then joining a much less wide ranging body. Standards were then lower for legislation. We now need to provide much more detail which will require considerable study.

Business and some Ministers are concerned about the UK remaining part of the Single Market. We need to stress that this would be the best course, and that will require wide ranging negotiations with compromises over issues like migration and budget contributions. I expect you all to be talking to your opposite numbers on the continent about all the things the UK will need from any Leaving Agreement, which will provide the context for Ministers needing to start offering concessions and compromises. It is important our partners in the EU are aware of just how much the UK will need in its Agreement, and ensure they understand the full range of complications they need to consider.

The mood in the Commission is not favourable to the UK. Commissioners do think the UK has to be taught a lesson if it continues with the idea that it can simply leave the EU after all these years of joint working without adverse consequences. We do need to get this important point across to Ministers. I will be writing to you again soon about the role of the Treasury. They are understandably sticking to their judgement that a Leave vote will do damage to confidence, trade, output, house prices, property and much else. We need to remind Ministers of this, given the wish of some of them to believe the surprisingly positive figures about the economy which we are seeing. We need to help the Treasury get across the message that things will go wrong at some point in the future.

Ministers do have a concern about the continued large flows of migrants into the UK . The Treasury might be able to help here by getting out their message that the UK will no longer be able to create new jobs and provide such a favourable economic background for them. Perhaps the Treasury would set up a special unit to communicate their realistic worries about the UK out of the EU to the countries losing migrant people. This might help Ministers in their difficult task of replying to those who want more control over UK borders.

I was pleased that the PM did stress we remain full members of the EU and intend to participate fully all the time we remain members. I trust officials will put forward sensible proposals to show just how positive the UK can be in its handling of EU matters, as a counterpoint to much of the negative comment about the EU we have witnessed in recent months.”


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