Risk management of Brexit to date

Politicians generally don’t give much thought to risks and risk management. After all, risks are part of the downside of their policies (or ‘bright ideas’) and they try to airbrush or spin them out of the narrative.  Whilst risks and their effective management are serious concerns across all areas of government from agriculture, through defensive and security, education, international relations, justice, law and order, to the economy, the National Health Service etc., a successful Brexit presents unique challenges. Furthermore, it does not help that the government has had to start from a state of total unpreparedness; Messrs Cameron and Osborne prevented the Civil Service from preparing any viable Brexit plan.  So how well are Mrs May and Mr Davis doing – both in understanding the risks involved and effectively managing them?

‘In-depth’ subject knowledge is obviously essential to being able to ‘tease out’, understand and manage risks. An aircraft pilot who knows nothing (if allowed to fly at all) is potentially dangerous, and so is a clueless politician. Sadly, this government has not given any serious indication that it knows much about how trade deals are negotiated or even how the EU works. There is very little, if any, detail in Mrs May’s and Mr Davis’s pronouncements. We hear predominantly robotic mantras, aspirations and wishful thinking. There also seems to be an unwillingness to acquire that necessary in-depth knowledge.

Subject knowledge is not enough to manage risks. Our Brexit team needs to understand the subtleties of the EU’s approach to risk and its effective control, and hence how these impact on the Article 50 negotiations.  The EU in general – in theory if not in practice – follows something like the Prussian edict ‘everything is forbidden except that which is allowed’. Pre-emptive mandatory standardised (inflexible) regulation controls risks at each stage of activity, with the result that an acceptable outcome is achieved.  Regulation gives rise to surveillance, monitoring, oversight and ultimately centralised control by the EU’s bureaucracy. Anyone with some exposure to this environment in one field should be able to recognise the same general approach, some of the terminology and regulatory or monitoring agencies, and role of the centralised EU bureaucracy, when they encounter it elsewhere.  The EU’s approach also fits in well with extending control into an ever-increasing number of areas, thus fulfilling its mission of creating a superstate.

The traditional alternative to the EU’s approach to risk management is to emphasise accountability. When things go wrong there are the options of civil courts, damages, or even criminal prosecution. In the case of politicians, they will be ejected from office. In English law, everything – in theory – is allowed except that which is expressly forbidden.  In practice, this purity is often replaced by some form of hybrid of ever-expanding regulation and increasingly punitive accountability.  Mrs May and Mr Davis, perhaps because they were schooled outside the EU loop, seem unable to understand or accept the EU’s rigidity, its risk control rationale or the implications for the Brexit negotiations and the resulting risks posed.

Mrs May’s commitment to leave the Single Market and instead negotiate a bespoke free trade agreement supposedly providing equivalent utility appears indicative of poor risk management.  This decision was reportedly made by her alone after consulting her closest advisor and without involving the cabinet or even discussing it with them.  It was a similar story regarding her decision to call a general election in last June, with disastrous results for her party and her reputation.  Mrs May does appear to make decisions based on flimsy advice, ignoring sensible safeguards and risk management tools.

Mrs May has ended up choosing the most difficult and complex Brexit option, requiring the greatest flexibility and cooperation from the EU and the most (competent) resources. We are not told what other options for leaving were considered, what risks were posed and why they were dismissed.  There also appears to be nothing actually in place (or comprehensively planned) to absorb any potential problems or risks.  To date, little or no progress appears to have been made in successfully delivering her ambitions or mitigating the risks. Meanwhile, time is marching on.

The approach to negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU has once again demonstrated a cavalier approach to the management of risk. We are told it will be all right in the end, because at the eleventh hour the EU will cave in and give everything wanted.  It is highly unlikely that it will do so, but even if it does, leaving a significant part of the future economic wellbeing of the country in a state of uncertainty until the last minute is a huge risk. It is a wild gamble based on successfully negotiating a myriad of potentially show-stopping trade (and other) conditions and one which totally ignores the EU’s general approach to risk management, which I have outlined above.

Just suppose that the EU caved in to Mrs May’s demands for an ambitious, innovative, deep and special relationship. It would create a precedent which would cause much concern in Brussels. Granting any exceptions to one country (even if possible) would open up disorderly and uncontrolled challenges elsewhere and could violate the EU’s general risk control philosophy.

Then the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, spun as providing certainty in the fundamentally changed situation of ‘third country’ status outside the EU and the Single Market contains many undisclosed potential problems and risks. Some pieces of transposed EU legislation may not actually function as intended, because they were designed to operate in an environment of close integration with the EU and its administrative apparatus. The Fisheries regulation 1380/2013 is a good example.

It would be a tragedy if we ended up with a poor Brexit because of poor risk management. Brexit provides us with a tremendous opportunity to escape the clutches of the EU’s political folly with its unaccountable, extravagant agenda to create a superstate regardless of the costs to its subsumed peoples. Effective risk management historically does not form part of the EU’s political agenda or mitigate its actions. By contrast, the return of full responsible government to these shores should mean our elected representatives will once again respond positively to the wishes of the people, accepting responsibility for their actions and – most importantly of all – behaving responsibly.

Brexit:- Politics versus Practicalities

Politicians do politics whilst other people – and businesses in particular – are usually forced by circumstances to do practicalities. When the two diverge or conflict over a particular subject, politics wins for the politician and practicalities of necessity takes priority for people and businesses. For completeness, we must add that bureaucrats do bureaucracy (it’s their raison d’être), the more rules, the more gold-plating of rules and the more enforcement of rules (procedures and processes) the better.

Hence from the moment Mrs May, a consummate politician, said “Brexit means Brexit” we were inevitably going to be landed with a political Brexit, not a practical Brexit if we have any kind of Brexit at all.  It suits the exigencies of the Conservative Party and the ambitions – indeed, the survival in power  – of Mrs May.  Politics is all about gaining and keeping power. This involves creating ‘favourable’ appearances and impressions in the eyes of the electorate, scoring points against others, concealing the whole truth and in some cases, outright deceit. Public ‘U’ turns and admitting mistakes must be avoided at all costs.

From the European Union’s  perspective there is a political dimension to Brexit as far as the European Council is concerned but elsewhere in Brussels it is mainly a bureaucratic process with severe constraints imposed by the EU’s complex and rigid system of rules. Anyone with experience of the EU’s workings will probably be able to recall those frustrating anecdotes illustrating just how inflexible and rule-bound the EU can be when trying to get anything done. It does not like to deviate from the letter of the law.  This same bureaucratic approach will govern the EU’s approach to Brexit, where a tangle of complex inflexible regulations must be followed, without deviation and exception.  Dr Richard North’s excellent blog Eureferendum.com provides a valuable (and comprehensive) source of well researched information about the ensuing problems it is creating for our team.

Making a practical success of Brexit is something that will involve extracting ourselves from the political institutions of the EU, thus restoring the sovereignty of UK institutions while at the same time ensuring existing trading relationships can be maintained. It will be a successful combination of reconciling a politically-inspired British Brexit with the bureaucratic procedures of the EU.  Can it be done? – or is ‘walking away’ from negotiations without a deal a viable alternative?

When the worlds of the British politician and the Eurocrat meet, as they have done in the Brexit negotiations, the net result is mutual incomprehension and therefore little or no progress. Let us not assume this is a result of ulterior motives or hidden agendas.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, for each side to enter the mind-set of the other. To add to the difficulty, the ‘devil is in the detail’ and our negotiators have not historically been keen on detail and it will thus require a great deal of time to familiarise themselves with the subtleties, implications and ‘stupidities’ of the EU’s regulations.

As time marches on, we are slipping further away from any possibility of achieving a practical Brexit.  The idea that trade with the EU can be conducted within World Trade Organisation ‘rules’ (if all else fails) is a practical non-starter. These are not rules, but ‘principles’ to facilitate trading agreements between different countries or trading blocs.  “No deal” therefore creates a legal and administrative void which would crash into the brick wall of the EU’s many inflexible regulations – not to mention its lack of preparedness for the huge increase in paperwork which would result. After all, the EU was not expecting us to vote to leave and is having to start from scratch as well! Mrs May’s so-called ‘deep and special relationship’ between the UK and EU would also face these self-same hurdles in obtaining seamless access to the Single Market (or European Economic Area, EEA); after Brexit the UK becomes a ‘third country’ to be treated the same way as any other country not a member of the EEA.  So is a ‘U’ turn or betrayal of Brexit ‘on the cards’?

If Mrs May doesn’t deliver a genuine Brexit, the result will be calamitous for her and her party.   The Conservative Party might even split along Brexiteer and Europhile lines. However, she stood for leadership on a platform of leaving the EU. She has since stated her desire to leave the EU on 29th March 2019 with a trade agreement in place but a bespoke trade deal isn’t achievable by then and  the walk away option is also an impractical non-starter. So where does she go to next?

Sooner or later, the lack of any practical option will dawn on some members of her party, who will realise the electoral price the Tories will pay in 2022 if a successful Brexit hasn’t been delivered.  Spin, playing a blame game with the EU and ignorant indifference by the media can only go so far in concealing the truth from the mass of an increasingly worried electorate.  It seems that the only way of delivering a practical Brexit within confines of the EU’s bureaucratic Brexit is to reconsider a way of retaining full access to the EEA from outside the EU. Membership of the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, would provide different more flexible terms for membership of the EEA and at much lower cost than through membership of the EU. Yes, it will mean that Mrs May or her successor will need to make a ‘U’ turn over EEA membership (in spin terms ‘an exciting refocusing of efforts, with our European partners, to achieve a deep and special relationship’ et al) but the alternative is electoral oblivion for her party.

So come on Mrs May, there is no time like the present to set a new direction to a practical Brexit on 29th March 2019.

Michel Barnier’s recent speech – some salient points

Either Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator for Brexit, is off his head or there are fundamental misconceptions being held by our government’s Brexiteer Big Beasts.  The following is a summary of the most salient points apparently made by Mr Barnier speaking ‘frankly and sincerely’ about Brexit recently in Brussels to the European Economic and Social Committee.  A more detailed analysis is provided on EUreferendum.com, Brexit: Barnier – “that is not possible”.

Point 1 – on being outside the Single Market and Customs Union

“There will be no business as usual. The UK will become a third country at the end of March 2019”.

Point 2  – on the UK cherry-picking (through negotiations)

“There can be no sector by sector participation in the single market: you cannot leave the single market and then opt-in to those sectors. You cannot be half-in and half-out of the single market”

Point 3  – on being able to ‘influence’ the EU from the outside

“The EU must maintain full sovereignty for deciding regulations: the EU is not only a big marketplace. It is also an economic and social community where we adopt common standards. All third countries must respect our autonomy to set rules and standards. And I say this at the moment when the UK has decided to leave this community and become a third country.”

Point 4  – on the British Side being out of touch with the reality of the EU

“I am not sure whether they have been fully understood across the Channel”. “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a custom union to achieve ‘frictionless trade’, ……that is not possible”.

Point 5  – on the status of UK having left the EU – comprehensive free trade agreement (even if agreed before then doesn’t change this status)

“Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, at midnight on 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will at the present stage be a third State, which will therefore not have the same facilities and rights as a State Member of the European Union. It’s its choice. Not ours”.

Point 6  – on trading from the outside being more difficult (e.g. customs duties and non-tariff barriers exist)

“A trade relationship with a country that does not belong to the European Union obviously involves frictions”.

Point 7  –  on no deal (trading under World Trade Organisation Rules) being a practical non-starter

“I therefore want to be very clear …to my mind there is no reasonable justification for the ‘no deal’ scenario. There is no sense in making the consequences of Brexit even worse”.

Point 8  – on cutting losses arising from the new relationship between the UK and EU

“Business should assess, with lucidity, the negative consequences of the UK’s choice on trade and investment. And prepare to manage them”.

To conclude

Mr Barnier has a conception of Brexit negotiations that is not shared (publically at least) by our government. The main takeway from M. Barnier’s speech (and assessment) is that he feels the UK is unprepared for Brexit or even to negotiate realistically based on the reality of dealing with the EU. A comprehensive free trade agreement finalised within two years isn’t going to happen, he claims, and would not solve all problems of seamless access to the Single Market. And it will not be all right in the end unless the UK’s Brexit negotiators understand what is actually involved.

Photo by EPP Group in the CoR

Crisis management of the Brexit Article 50 negotiations

The European Union’s Brexit negotiating screws are turning on a weakened Mrs May and Co. It is painful to behold the concessions given to them only to be followed by their extra demands, such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit.

It must be tortuous being there in the room with Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk or Guy Verhofstadt (each an EU version of the Marquis de Sade) and Angela Merkel’s (pig headed) attack dogs enjoying Schadenfreude. Did anyone think we could actually negotiate with them without being treated to an EU version of Count Dracula siphoning out as much of our life blood as possible? At what point do we recognise that these Article 50 negotiations are going to make us second class citizens in our own country and worse?  Some serious crisis management is needed, preferably before being on the rack of this modern day Inquisition (or Imposition) gets unbearable.

The most basic rules of crisis management are:

  • Don’t get into a crisis in the first place;
  • Once in a crisis, don’t do anything to make it worse;
  • Don’t believe that the original timetable, objectives and budget can still be achieved;
  • The earlier the remedial intervention, the greater the chances of recovery.

The basic problem – why things go wrong in the first place and don’t get corrected in time – is that all decisions and resulting actions, whatever is happening,  occur within an underlying paradigm or conceptual framework.  This paradigm includes subject and other knowledge, assumptions, beliefs, aspirations, language, philosophy etc. and operates to constrain intellectual activity. Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions explored the effect of paradigms on scientific progress. Kuhn noted that the luminaries of the science community tended limit their interest to exploring an existing ‘conventional world view’ of science, and ignoring contradictory evidence and theories. Progress tended to come from the ‘outsiders’ who established a new paradigm.

Individual paradigms can also turn into a group one or consensus that is fundamentally flawed; peer group pressure commonly stifles any dissenting views. Irving L. Janis in Victims of Groupthink explored how a group (in this case concerned with American foreign policy) could make potentially dangerous mistakes. He has suggested in Crucial Decisions – Leadership in Policymaking and Crisis Management how this can be avoidedThe picture of imperatives towards bad policymaking is completed by process and bureaucratic controls, poor communications, custom and practice, heuristic shortcuts and management/political leadership ego (loss of face) which can all also help to prevent reality being accepted and acted upon expeditiously, when things are going wrong.

Regarding Brexit negotiations, once Mrs May made her Lancaster House speech in January this year the die was cast, come EU hell, high water, or General Election disaster. Yet there were – and still are – many issues where our Brexit negotiations looks like shambolic vague wishful thinking, based on incomplete and inaccurate information (see Brexit and some Alternative Facts), and questionable assumptions (for some significant assumptions see The Big EU-UK Question).

 This makes us vulnerable and risks our being taken to the cleaners by the EU over, for example,: the number, order and imposed conditions of subjects ‘negotiated’ such as any ongoing contributions to the EU black hole (aka budget and liabilities), turning EU citizens remaining in this country into a privileged caste, trade/bureaucratic regulation terms propelling our finest enterprises on a one way route to commercial oblivion and setting us up as a warning of what the vengeance of the EU élite means for any wayward populists in the remaining EU Member States.  Less than two months ago, it was obvious the EU was behaving in an uncompromising way, showing bad faith in respect to Brexit negotiations (see Mayday, May! Brexit Mayday). Yet we are weaker now compared with then and need to come up with an alternative strategy (or strategies) that stands a better chance of getting us out of the claws of the EU political machinery and machinations – ensuring we achieve a real Brexit and not continuing EU members in reality, if not in name.

Recovery in a crisis needs a new paradigm to replace the existing failing one, and the resources to make it work. This suggests rapidly taking on board an effective Company Doctor or turnaround specialist (or team) for Brexit who thinks the unthinkable and stamps his or her authority and project management expertise quickly on the negotiations.  Forget the idea of just getting more of the same people – usually this actually slows down progress.  The new paradigm needs to be based on an understanding of the existing failing one and its obvious flaws, such as unrealistic assumptions about the EU’ negotiating priorities,  their desire to reach a deal,  their honesty and integrity,  their flexibility to achieve a deal, what is achievable within the timetable and the difference between a real comprehensive fully resourced plan and vacuous hyperbole.  The new paradigm needs to be evidence- and analysis-driven, including risk assessments of probabilities of being realistic. Above all, it must not be based on wishful thinking or aspirations, or after drinks entertainment for the Westminster Bubble.  And most importantly the existing team mustn’t shoot the messenger because the message is unpalatable or demand a sycophantic re-write.

It would be nice to think that everything will be all right in the end and we will leave the EU seamlessly in March 2019, despite the best (or worst) efforts of our negotiating team under the direction of Mrs May and Mr Davis (Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union).  Unfortunately history is full of projects that failed to come in on time, budget and to specified requirements or objectives.  In the absence of hard evidence to the contrary, Brexit negotiations appear to be heading the same way; or more metaphorically the Brexit orchestra is playing as the Titanic ship of state sails serenely on towards a sea full of EU negotiating icebergs.

 

Mayday, Mayday! Brexit Mayday!

Be not intimidated…nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice. ― John Adams, 1765, British Citizen, Founding Father and 2nd President of The United States of America

It’s over! It’s over, bar the ridiculous charade of ‘tough negotiations’. The thoroughly nasty and vindictive European Union (EU) has won. And gallant, heroic and duped Mrs May and her negotiating team have already lost. We can forget a fair deal on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and a free trade agreement.  And, unlike in normal divorce proceedings, there is no independent arbitrator to ensure something approaching ‘fair play’ where differences are irreconcilable.

In any negotiation the parties have to progress in good faith because each knows things the other cannot know; privileged information that could be used by the unscrupulous to exploit the situation.  Our contract law consequently places obligations on the parties and means of redress through the courts when one party abuses its position.  Unfortunately the EU, so far, appears to be negotiating in bad faith, not telling the full truth about what can and cannot be negotiated, and the UK is buying the deceptions considerably weakening our position; the EU are effectively ‘laying down the law’ and simultaneously getting us ‘over a barrel’.

Ambassador (rtd) Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos (Former Secretary General of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization) was on the inside of the Article 50 negotiations when it was included it in the Lisbon Treaty. He has revealed that Article 50 was only intended to cover financial arrangements for a Member State leaving the EU. The remaining conditions now being set out by the EU are outside its scope and can only have been included to pressurise us, exact a far heavier price and coerce others into not leaving the EU.  It is one thing freely to negotiate issues that are outside the scope of Article 50 but quite another dishonestly to hold a sword of Damocles over Mrs May’s head that ‘everything must be agreed before anything is agreed’.   Obviously Europhiles on the inside are not going to own up to this subterfuge; they haven’t up to now have they?

Then there is the misinformation about the Single Market, free movement of people, costs of Single Market membership and the jurisdiction of the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) etc. Different arrangements are open to members of EFTA; the European Free Trade Association who are also members of the Single Market, (the European Economic Area (EEA)) but not Member States of the EU and its Customs Union. They can and do negotiate free trade agreements with other countries. Free movement can be unilaterally suspended by any member of EFTA by invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Provisions) in the EEA Agreement. The UK as a member of EFTA would be able to do the same, if we chose to leave the EU and join this trading association of independent European countries to remain in the EEA.  Also, it costs the EFTA countries little financially to be members of the EEA although Norway does separately contribute towards EU facilities or services used and to development funds.  The ECJ only has jurisdiction over the EU Member States and hence over part of the EEA, but not over EFTA (i.e., non-EU) countries.

There is also increasing evidence that the EU is out to punish us for the temerity of Brexit. Their ‘negotiating position’ is hardening and the language becoming ever more strident.  For example, see Britain needs fighting ‘Plan B’ for trade as EU turns screws on Brexit by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard first published in the Daily Telegraph 26th April 2017. They can also be very obstructionist. For example, see The six Brexit traps that will defeat Theresa May by Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, published in The Guardian 3rd May 2017. Perhaps worse, the EU knows how to inflict real damage on our economy in the event of us leaving the Single Market (EEA) and becoming a ‘third country’ with or without a trade deal.  On the outside, we would face external tariffs, non-tariff barriers (such as special rules, standards, certifications, approvals and inspections) and a massive expansion of Customs Clearances both here and in the protectionist EU (which they might want us to pay for as well).

What we are seeing is a well-established modus operandi for the EU which can be explained in a few quotes from Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission:

When it becomes serious, you have to lie.

We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.

There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.

Article 50 negotiations as they now appear can’t achieve a reasonable outcome in our interests (we are being misled) and who would actually choose to touch these EU people  – gangsters more like – with the proverbial barge pole?  We need a plan to out-manoeuvre them, a strategy to ensure they cannot hurt us and to avoid any negotiating except where we are the visibly stronger party; money and concessions invariably flow from the weak to the strong.  These are high stakes and if we get it wrong the EU will likely exact a price worse than they’ve inflicted elsewhere, notably upon Greece.

We could ‘weaponize’ our ingenuity, industry and research to redress the balance of negotiating power, for example, by investigating background facts, intelligence gathering and analysis; something akin to the backroom work of Bletchley Park. There are obvious skeletons in the EU cupboard and some that need digging much deeper, such as the sinister origins of the EU and long-standing anti-British sentiments.  The earliest predecessor of the EU (the European Coal and Steel Community) was profoundly anti-British and had an aim to damage our then industrial power. We were saved by the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee from this calamity, only to have later Prime Ministers and British civil servants collude in the EU’s ‘management of our decline’.  Former EU insiders ‘coming clean’ could be goldmines of information.

We could cultivate allies and build alliances with those we can do business with to mutual benefit.  The obvious ones are EFTA, probably by becoming a (temporary) member. The media here and overseas, up till now mainly Europhile could be another ally. Communications to influence public opinion are essential, otherwise the EU’s propaganda arm and fellow travellers will use it against us.

There are other things that can also be done to defend our national interests once it is recognised that the EU’s actions relating to Article 50 are part of a major scam.

England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example. William Pitt the Younger 1805

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).”