A project management view of Brexit

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glorySir Francis Drake, 1587

As Mrs May’s intrepid Brexit negotiating team set fair for Brussels, carrying with them the hopes and fears of our realm, are they mindful of the six stages of many major projects? These are often written as:

  1. Enthusiasm,
  2. Disillusionment,
  3. Panic and hysteria,
  4. Hunt for the guilty,
  5. Punishment of the innocent, and
  6. Reward for the uninvolved.

Undoubtedly within their midst must be a project manager (or perhaps a project management team) well experienced in delivering complex projects for difficult customers on short timescales to wide-ranging specified requirements and within tight budgets.  He (or she or perhaps, they) will have his/her/their work cut out.

Brexit, especially the route the government has, for now, chosen) is a complex process requiring a multitude of different strands, including other associated and critical projects, to be pulled together. Worse, much is actually outside our direct control, involving activities ‘over there’ in the European Commission, European Parliament, and government departments or ministries within the 27 remaining Member States.  And even these will probably be receiving input from European Union (EU) agencies and external organisations (such as trade or commerce organisations) as well.  Herding the contents of a sizeable African game park or engineering a trip to Mars would probably be simpler and more predictable than project managing this lot.

Brexit, then, needs great project and process management. Unfortunately these are things we traditionally don’t do that well, relying instead on muddling through, a process of centralised micromanagement by a ‘great leader’ and minds being concentrated at the last moment. And our governments usually talk down the difficulties (and costs) involved in any major project, until bitten really hard by the facts on the ground. Think of the Millennium Dome, the NHS and HMRC Information Technology projects or the Nimrod AEW3 airborne early warning (surveillance) project?  To make matters worse, we often go for ‘re-inventing the wheel’  – and then find that it doesn’t work at the first attempt anyway.

Rather than try to project manage Brexit in its current form with all the complexity, unknowns and risks involved, much can be done to make the task easier and, therefore, the end result more likely to meet or even exceed expectations. Here is a helpful checklist:-

  • be realistic about what can or cannot be achieved  in a given timescale
  • take out as much of the complexity as possible and get control of as much of the overall project (including the EU’s contribution) as possible
  • find adequate, experienced, competent resources rather than ending up surrounded by sycophantic Yes men (or women) or Yes Minster (Sir Humphrey Appleby) obstructionists.
  • plan and programme before rushing in
  • monitor and predict the problem areas/activities well in advance and then proactively solve them
  • adapt and respond quickly when the unexpected occurs – as it surely will,
  • identify and attenuate undesirable/unwanted consequences (collateral damage)
  • avoid fudges or letting incomplete or wrong work carry on (as they will come back to bite you later)
  • use proven standardised methods, products and solutions, wherever practicable
  • to communicate and listen to the messenger rather than shooting him or her when the message is unpalatable
  • watch out for the subtle confidence tricks such as nonsensical excuses, playing politics and ‘moving the goalposts’
  • watch out for members of the team changing sides through regular interaction with the other (EU) side (assuming they are actually on our side to begin with)
  • keep good, traceable, up to date records from the very beginning.

This is pretty basic and obvious. There are plenty of standard techniques, textbooks and management tools around to help with project management. If the basics are not right, the more complex aspects become expensively ineffective.

Brexit involves negotiation which is widely assumed to require compromises such as meeting half way or quid pro quo. This can obviously set precedents that again come back later to bite hard. From a project management perspective, firm commitments and precise statements of the current status of the proceedings are more likely to lead to the desired outcomes – as far as our country’s interests are concerned – being achieved. This is also called driving a hard bargain or “statecraft”.  Perhaps Mrs May already has an experienced mentor for this important art in Donald J Trump, who has had a many years’ experience in dealing with truculent contractors and insular officialdom, having been taught some basic skills, on the job, by his redoubtable father.

All major projects eventually come to an end, usually in a far more imprecise and messy way than they started. And then the project team disbands, its members moving onto other things.  Presumably the same will happen years hence for the Department for Exiting the EU? – or perhaps not?  There can’t be many instances when civil servants have intentionally worked themselves out of a job in two years?

The final observation in this brief look at the project management of Brexit comes from Sir Francis Drake’s motto – Sic Parvis Magna, translated literally, as: “Thus great things from small things (come).”

The big EU-UK question

Does the BREXIT negotiating strategy being adopted by our Government stand much chance of success?

The government is exuding a great deal of confidence about the future outcome of its negotiations to leave the European Union (EU). It would be nice to think we can believe its claims, but we need to ask whether they are realistic or whether we should instead be adopting a different, less ambitious, less complex, novel and consequently less risky, approach.

Whilst predicting the future is always guesswork, we should at least attempt to identify the major ‘showstoppers’ and risks to a successful outcome. To put it another way, we must consider some really important underlying assumptions which will need to be right or we could face a potential disaster. We can but hope that this has already been done by the government already as a preliminary to setting negotiating goals and working out our Prime Minister’s winning strategy.

This list is not necessarily exhaustive but includes some significant underlying assumptions upon which is predicated the success or failure of our BREXIT negotiations:-

  1. That pragmatic enlightened flexible mutual self-interest will prevail in the EU hierarchy;
  2. That rational economic considerations override EU political priorities or malice;
  3. That UK’s loss through failure to reach a trading agreement is EU’s loss as well;
  4. That Mrs May can set the EU’s negotiation strategy;
  5. That The World Trade Organisation (WTO) option for trading with the EU is viable;
  6. That negotiating team and administrative arrangements can be adequately resourced.

Let us consider these assumptions in order:-

(1) – The EU hierarchy does not have a great history of actions based on pragmatic enlightened flexible mutual self-interest, but rather the opposite. It has its ideological goals (e.g. increasing Superstate centralisation) which are unremittingly pursued whatever the undesirable consequences. It has inflexible, slow bureaucratic processes and procedures; it is somewhat dominated by the German – French duopoly.  The final deal will be further complicated by the Byzantine high level process involving the vote of the (presently somewhat posturing and hostile) European Parliament and unanimous agreement of all the 27 remaining Member States (presumably pursuing their own self-interests, such as Spain over sovereignty of Gibraltar).

(2) – The EU’s political priorities and ideology have traditionally overridden economic considerations.  Consequently, for example, the relentless economic hardship imposed on the southern European member states, Greece in particular, by the Euro. It is claimed that the austerity imposed on Portugal was a signal to larger economies like Italy that they must tow the German line.  Usually the EU takes years to negotiate free trade agreements (FTAs) largely because their scope extends far beyond purely trade considerations to include ideological and political features.

(3) – The EU could actually profit at the UK’s expense from a failure to agree a free trade agreement. Over the years, the EU has encouraged the transfer of economic activity from the more advanced Member States to the less developed, often through financial inducements. The EU’s Customs Union is also inherently protectionist, erecting barriers to imports from third countries.  Whilst there are likely to be some business losers, overall EU economic activity could remain the same, and there would be some winners, even in the UK, such as firms able profitably to expand in their protected EU home market.

(4) – There is limited scope to influence the EU’s negotiation strategy or priorities in favour of the UK’s interests. Commonly in contractual arrangements, money and concessions flow from the weakest – or more desperate – party to the strongest or more indifferent. Over the years the UK has not had that much influence in the corridors of EU power to protect its interests.  Leaving must inevitably reduce influence rather than strengthen it especially where any malevolence, greedy envy or dishonesty towards the UK is to be found.

(5) – Trading with the EU under WTO rules is more problematic than closely integrated trading as part of the Single Market – and in some instances, impractical or uncompetitive. The EU’s Customs Union operates tariffs and effectively non-tariff barriers (rules, regulations, inspections, approvals, standards, etc.) to outside imports from third countries, which the UK would become.  WTO rules do not change this situation, and even a free trade agreement may not help much where EU-imposed conditions are impractical to follow.

(6) – The resources needed to negotiate  – and in particular to protect our interests and not be ‘taken for an EU ride’ – have to be built up quickly and without in-fighting. Also, after leaving the EU, its Customs Union and the Single Market, the additional administrative arrangements here and in the EU, such as customs clearance or inspections, have to be in place and running smoothly. Unfortunately, over the years the UK has lost much expertise and knowledge of administrative systems thanks to the transfer of competences to the EU or the operation of the Single Market, whilst the world of intra-EU Member State trade has moved on with increasing volume and complexity.  Additionally, the UK Government has a poor record with large, complex projects – especially relating to information technology.

————————————————————————————————————

In summary, consideration of these assumptions gives some indication of how risky Mrs May’s planned BREXIT strategy is if we are to take it at face value. There exists a significant likelihood of it being ‘derailed’, or at least not turning out as expected.  These six points are obvious areas for concern. Assumptions, if incorrect, cannot be changed, but we can however change our response before and hopefully well before, the worst happens.

There is more than one path for leaving the EU, whilst retaining a satisfactory trading relationship; perhaps our prime minister has something up her sleeve.  It is not impossible that as an interim solution, she may be considering temporary membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which would give us continued access to the European Economic Area (EEA) while still allowing us to leave the political clutches of the EU. This route would allow the UK to control levels of EU migration through unilaterally enacting the Safeguard Provisions in Article 112 of the EEA Agreement.  Remaining within the EEA (UK is currently a member through being in the EU) would retain trading continuity with the EU with the least disruption. Given a choice negotiating with future friendly EFTA partners is more attractive than negotiating with somewhat disgruntled soon to be ex-EU partners.

 

Brexit and some alternative facts

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. (anonymous, often misattributed to Eric Blair aka George Orwell)

The truth is usually more complex and subtle than the simplistic soundbyte beloved of politicians and media headline writers. Fake news is not necessarily the problem; misinformation can be spread because the basic assumptions are incorrect, the background has not been thoroughly investigated or it is just speculation masquerading as fact.

The following are a couple of quite significant examples.  However, please don’t take my word and incomplete knowledge of these subjects for granted.  A much better source is Eureferendum.com and the original source documents.

Control of EU Immigration Requires Leaving the Single Market – NOT TRUE

How often have we heard or read this, but it is not actually correct.  The Single Market (aka European Economic Area), created by the European Union (EU) and to which the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) also belong has free movement of goods, persons, services and capital as basic principles (set by the EU). The conditions of access of members of EFTA to the single market are set out in the Agreement on the European Economic Area which also includes free movement as a basic principle.

However, the EEA Agreement also includes an opt-out which can be applied unilaterally by members of EFTA (see Chapter 4, Safeguard Provisions, Article 112), but obviously not by Members States of the EU.  It states:

  1. If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
  2. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Agreement.

This opt-out is intended to be temporary (until a permanent solution is implemented), but nevertheless can be invoked and maintained in the absence of that permanent solution.  It has been used already by Liechtenstein to control immigration and Iceland to control capital flows in the wake of the financial crisis.

The EU negotiators are already setting terms for the EU-UK negotiations – NOT TRUE

How often has the media reported that this or that person, with an appropriate grand EU-related title, is already laying down tough terms for us? In reality, at the moment there are no negotiators as such – just political nominations by various posturing organisations within the EU set-up and their self-important leaders or other politicians. The small print of the Lisbon Treaty Article 50 states:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:

  1. Without prejudice to the specific provisions laid down in Article 207, agreements between the Union and third countries or international organisations shall be negotiated and concluded in accordance with the following procedure.
  2. The Council shall authorise the opening of negotiations, adopt negotiating directives, authorise the signing of agreements and conclude them.
  3. The Commission, or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy where the agreement envisaged relates exclusively or principally to the common foreign and security policy, shall submit recommendations to the Council, which shall adopt a decision authorising the opening of negotiations and, depending on the subject of the agreement envisaged, nominating the Union negotiator or the head of the Union’s negotiating team.
  4. The Council may address directives to the negotiator and designate a special committee in consultation with which the negotiations must be conducted.
  5. The Council, on a proposal by the negotiator, shall adopt a decision authorising the signing of the agreement and, if necessary, its provisional application before entry into force.

Clearly negotiations are with the Council (of the European Union) who nominates a negotiator and, at the time of writing, they haven’t done so, officially at least.

To sum up, all is not what is reported or stated to be true facts and because they are repeated so often, if not vehemently, it is easy to be taken in.

A wake-up call from the Brexit vote

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”  John Adams

The vote to leave the European Union on 23rd June and its immediate aftermath have tossed the pieces of our country’s political kaleidoscope into the air. Whilst it is still too early to know where they will all eventually land, the Brexit earthquake has created an opportunity to renew our country’s democracy and to show that good government is still possible. However, it has also revealed the obstacles that such a renewal would face.

Playing fast and loose

Many politicians, their sycophants and other members of the ruling establishment were (and presumably still are) prepared to throw responsibility, integrity and good judgement to the wind in pursuit of a political objective or their own narrow self-interests. No holds are barred and the end justifies the means.  We suspected then and now know that ‘Project Fear’ was largely a work of gross exaggeration, if not of fiction. Yet such gross deception would never have happened if the individuals concerned had acted with any sense of integrity, honour, duty and professionalism. Thankfully, there were a few – but alas not many – dissenting voices on the remain side who refused, in spite of establishment pressure and groupthink, to participate in acts of deceit and manipulation of the electorate.

Boldly go where facts, knowledge and analysis are missing

We now know that many politicians, members of the ruling establishment and their fellow travellers in the mainstream media are prepared to make authoritative policy statements with only a superficial knowledge of the subject or issue – in other words, behaving like proverbial fools who ‘rush in where angels fear to tread’. Obviously, they are highly likely to get it wrong often but yet they deliberately shy away from detailed statements based on facts, knowledge and thoughtful, perceptive analysis. Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have shown, by hamstringing the Civil Service over any sort of BREXIT plan, just how little the political establishment actually knows or understands.

Poor democrats and worse

The ruling establishment has shown itself to be willing to undermine or circumvent the democratic process. Thus we see Remainiacs (with deep pockets) involving themselves in legal action (dressed up in sophistry), while some politicians are still trying to ignore or reinterpret the Referendum result.  Many also do not appear to have grasped that, whatever justification they may give for their statements, they are not entitled to ignore the democratic will of the electorate. The desire to strengthen democracy and restore the sovereignty of our own Parliament was one of the major factors in the decision of many leavers to vote for independence from the EU. In the wake of the result, these opponents of democracy talk down our country’s prospects in the media, using often spurious or selective ‘evidence’.

Out of touch ruling Élite

The ruling establishment’s agenda – supported by much of the mainstream media – is not shared by many of the electorate. Consequently, many voters, particularly the socially conservative, patriotic, individualistic, financially prudent types, feel that they are no longer represented and have no voice in the ‘corridors of power’.

The establishment generally comes across as having a set of common values, views and interests, including: globalism and destruction of national identities; remaking society into a sort of permissive, compliant image; intolerance of nonconforming views; pursuit of increasing statist or corporatist control. They view the electorate, who do not share these values, as wrong, ill-informed and/or misguided and in need of re-education. Furthermore, they never consider that their condescending attitudes are the root cause of the electorate’s ‘obstinacy’, as they would call it.

Some Implications

The gap between ordinary people and this self-selecting élite is vast. The two groups have very different philosophical outlooks and interpret the world in totally different ways. The élite live in a bubble, consisting of people who largely share the same views, self-interests and questionable assumptions – especially when it comes to the electorate and the opinions of ordinary people. In their isolated world, spin (with its abandonment of precise language) and the resulting superficial depth of thought have replaced humanity, patriotism, experience, actual knowledge and careful analysis.  Their objectives – pursuit of globalism and corporatism, self-interest etc. – are as likely as not to be working against the wishes, aspirations and best interests of much of the electorate. Consequently, we, the ordinary people, need some form of protection.

Traditionally, in our country, protection against abuse of power has been provided by the workings of democratic accountability and transparency and by longstanding systemic (Parliamentary and legal) checks and balances.  However, this approach requires all parties concerned to ‘play the game’. When a ruling élite effectively controls the apparatus of government and gains a stranglehold over economic forecasting and the media, as we are seeing, these protections can be ignored and dismantled.  This process is a slippery slope which can result in our becoming playthings for their sociological experiments  – reduced to nothing more than a resource to be exploited.  As democracy dies, so too do its checks and balances. Like a political version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, extremism, inhumanity and intolerance rises on all sides to fill the gap.

In conclusion, democracy, like freedom, has shallow roots and must be constantly re-invigorated to remain healthy. The traditional methods of democratic renewal have been education, respect for just laws and active involvement by the electorate. If these tools are not regularly used, our ruling élite will accrue yet more power to themselves and our democracy will slowly wither away.

An open letter to a high-profile remainer

If we all write to our opponents, they may start thinking a bit more seriously about future membership of the European Union, giving us a far better chance of winning the coming referendum.

The following letter highlights risk management. There is a strong case for spreading its message  because we traditionally are far better at risk management and the EU is a failing political/bureaucratic experiment that encourages irresponsible behaviour and mutualises the resulting problems making them far worse.

Dear Mr Cameron,

I read with some concern a transcript of your recent speech (9th May on strength and security) which supported remaining in the European Union (EU) and highlighted the risks of leaving.  Whilst to paraphrase Mark Carney on the Andrew Marr Show, 16th May, highlighting risks is necessary in order to mitigate them, nothing is being said about the risks of remaining.  Could this be that whilst we traditionally are rather good at risk management, the risks arising from remaining within the EU are beyond our capabilities of risk management or mitigation? Thus the Public could be unaware of serious risks of remaining which cannot be effectively mitigated, whilst also being fearful of leaving under an erroneous impression regarding its riskiness?

I find developments within the EU, as reported recently in the Daily Mail  and the Daily Telegraph, rather alarming; hence my raising the subject of risk management and mitigation. We are not being asked to remain in the EU as it is now, but an EU which is highly unstable and on a trajectory to create a superstate.

From a risk management perspective, the EU, by extending its powers and adopting ‘one size fits all’ policies that apply to all member states, faces serious risks whereby some Member States will be extremely adversely affected. Some examples of this are the €uro and mass migration. Also there is a tendency to mutualise local issues or problems to all Member States making the results far worse, where previously these problems did not exist, such as with certain ECJ rulings.  It would appear, then, that the EU is inherently much poorer at risk management and mitigation than we are.

Can the EU become much better at risk management or even reform?  Professor John W Hunt, concluded on the basis of his studies of organisational behaviour in the EU and other international bodies, that reform always gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. He noted: “International bodies rarely have a power base of their own….. To justify themselves, these highly paid, often initially idealistic staff spend their time developing yet more ideas that can’t be implemented. The result is the worst of all worlds, there being nothing more cynical than a bunch of rich, demoralised ex-idealists.” Thus it is reasonable to assume the EU will largely remain unchanged, unreformed and poor at risk management.

I would be happy to discuss this further because we really do need an intelligent debate on all the serious risks not just those of leaving (which can be mitigated), but also those of remaining (which cannot).

You should, after an examination of all risks and their risk management, including those of remaining, heed the words of a great former Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury:- ‘The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies. When a mast falls overboard, you do not try to save a rope here and a spar there in memory of their former utility. You cut away the hamper altogether. It should be the same with policy, but it is not so. We cling to the shred of an old policy after it has been torn to pieces, and to the shadow of the shred after the rag itself has been torn away.

Juries, Democracy and the European Union

When it becomes serious, you have to lie. Jean-Claude Juncker President, European Commission

Whilst we recognise the role of juries in dispensing justice – namely establishing the truth and working together with the state, their role in facilitating democracy is less well known. Without juries and jury trials our understanding of democracy, especially the concept of the sovereignty of the people, would be very different. Perhaps our ‘democracy’ would have already come to resemble the European Union’s version – a figment of the ruling establishment’s imagination under which the sovereignty of the people something that, if it is recognised at all, can be ignored when inconvenient to their aims.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the influence of jury service on the education of citizens in social responsibilities towards society in his book in Democracy in America. Yet jury service goes further because it is an acknowledgement that the state cannot operate alone. The citizenry are required to  participate actively and the collective decision of the jury (about truth and therefore, guilt) is the correct one. The state in particular recognises the skills (listening, analysis and consensus evaluation), trustworthiness (honesty and integrity) and commitment (to justice and the rule of law) of the people.

The electorate is a somewhat larger jury, whose ability to determine the right political party (or parties) to form the government is largely accepted by everyone. Without this longstanding tradition of an active, participatory citizenry forming juries, whose collective judgement is ‘truth’ (hopefully based on factual evidence) and respect for the rule of law, there can be no functioning democracy as we understand it.

Historically there is also a close connection between a ‘jury’ and the limitation of state power. In Magna Carta (1215), in the forerunner of a rudimentary Parliament we find a council of 25 nobles established to keep the sovereign in check. There was also a real jury (of fellow men) to prevent abuse of absolute power through imprisonment of freemen.  In time, as jury trials evolved, the need to review evidence and establish the facts became the foundation of determining guilt or innocence and therefore of dispensing justice.

The Roman law, which had considerably more influence on the Continent, was somewhat different from our common law in establishing guilt or otherwise. It amounted to listening to the rhetoric of the ‘for’ and ‘against’ orators (lawyers etc.) and accepting the better presented argument. The classical definition of rhetoric was ‘the art of pleading well’. Establishing ‘facts’ as such did not come into it. Our modern understanding of ‘facts’ became commonplace only after 1660 with the founding of the Royal Society.  Previously ‘facts’ were deeds, derived from the Latin facio ‘I do’, and this older usage of the word still occurs in expressions such as ‘accessory after the fact’.

Currently, the electorate cannot operate as a jury in determining the most appropriate form of government and rule of this country in the EU Referendum (UK-based democracy or Brussels-based authoritarian corporatism) because it is being denied the necessary factual evidence.  The state, in the form of the government apparatus has prejudiced its judgement by distorting the evidence, instead of working with the jury (the electorate) to further democracy,. Consequently we are left, as in Shakespeare’s, works to establish the truth for ourselves through tokens or signs and the rhetoric or claims being proposed by the advocate, as in the Roman law tradition.

In summary, our view of democracy, sovereignty of the people and the need for the electorate to be able to judge on the basis of facts is not necessarily shared in the ruling establishment of the EU because of their different historical evolution and precedence. Part of this difference comes from the world of Roman law and the reduced role of trial by jury which, where they exist, is much more limited. Electorates can in the EU’s strange world be legitimately misled by rhetoric (or deceived by lies) since the most eloquent are the final arbiters of truth. And as we regularly see, the will or sovereignty of the people can be ignored in a way that is naturally alien to us arising from our longstanding traditions.

Could we ever change this different EU vision to more closely align with ours? In effect, to achieve a paradigm shift of assumptions, objectives, knowledge and experience amongst the ruling elite? Mr Cameron’s brilliant Oxford-educated rhetorical skills (the triumph of style and superficiality over logic and substance) have failed so far.  So he, his cronies, fellow travellers and the ruling elite have turned on us, spreading fear and despondency in order to get their way and in doing so are prejudicing the operation of democracy.  The jury can no longer have any reasonable doubt – the facts so far don’t speak for remaining.