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 great day dawns!

Just over nine months since the UK voted to leave the EU, the great day when that process begins is finally dawning.  On one hand, it is a cause for celebration as we formally begin our journey back to being a sovereign, independent nation free from control by Brussels. On the other, however, big challenges lie ahead. We do not know how much preparation has been undertaken by the government and the Civil Service for what is going to be a gruelling two years, which will probably end with us out of the EU but still only in a transitional arrangement as far as trade is concerned. We also need to be fighting hard to ensure that we get the best possible Brexit deal in other areas, notably fishing, criminal justice and foreign policy, where current government thinking is, at best, muddled and at worst downright dangerous.

Another potential problem is that the hard core remainiacs are not going to give up. Some 50,000 demonstrated against Brexit in London on Saturday 25th March and they have their friends in high places, who do not want to heal the wounds and make positive, constructive contribution to help deliver the best Brexit possible. Instead, people like Alastair Campbell are determined to further the divide in our country.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, Campbell was Tony Blair’s spin doctor or, in the words of Kelvin Mackenzie, someone who “told lies for a living”. He has recently taken over as editor of The New European, a pro-EU newspaper originally intended as a short-term publication for remain supporters after the Brexit vote. Higher than expected readership figures, however, have given it a lease of life which it clearly doesn’t deserve. Campbell’s decision to take the job is based on his belief that Brexit can be stopped – and his method? To counteract the “lie machine” which he claims has been built by the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Express. “Never has the truth about this debate been more needed,” he said. Finding the word “truth” and the name Alastair Campbell in the same sentence can only be described as highly amusing, given Mr McKenzie’s accurate description of his CV. Not to mention that this is the same Alastair Campbell who, only a few days ago eulogised the terrorist IRA thug Martin McGuinness as “a great guy, a good guy.”

He will have a fine team to work with. A list of writers for the paper reads like a veritable rogue’s gallery, include his old mate Tony B. and the former Europe Minister Dennis McShame. Such people are no match for any of the four titles mentioned when it comes to being economical with the truth. It was back in 2003 that Iain Duncan Smith perceptively observed of Mr Blair, “people no longer believe a word he says any more.” Fast forward 14 years and nothing has changed.

Maybe at this time when the Brexit process is finally under way, it’s time to remind ourselves of a few home truths. Firstly, the EU project was, is and always will be about creating a federal superstate. The plaque in the European Parliament visitor’s centre includes these words:- “National sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our times….The only final remedy for this evil is the federal union of the peoples.”  Although the article which displays the image of the plaque was written almost a year ago, there is no reason to believe it has subsequently disappeared  – or that the EU has changed its objective. We voted to regain our sovereignty – in other words, to leave this club of failures and re-join the rest of the world.

Secondly, many people voted to leave because they did not want the freedom of movement of people to continue.  The crowd of pro-EU remainiacs in London would no doubt want to label as a racist everyone who voted to leave the EU in order to curb immigration. This is a long way from the truth. While no one can deny the existence of some ugly attitudes towards foreigners, firstly, the alleged spike in “hate crimes” since Brexit is based on distorted figures and secondly, there are other good sound reasons for wanting a drastic cut in migration.  At the moment, we would struggle without foreign workers. Fast forward a mere 15 years and instead, we will be struggling to find work for the millions who have come to the UK in recent years.  A recent study by PriceWaterhouse Coopers suggested that  10 million low-skilled jobs could disappear due to advances in robotics.  Given the predominance of migrant workers in the lower end of the labour market, the last thing we want is any more people coming to our crowded islands, unless they have short-term work permits and nothing more.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a well-respected economist who voted Brexit primarily due to concerns about the scale of immigration. “It’s unsustainable”, he said – and rightly so.

Thirdly, as has been mentioned many times on this website, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster for our fishermen. Brexit offers us, in the words of fisheries campaigner John Ashworth, an “exciting future” due to the “tremendous resource” in our territorial waters which we  can reclaim.

Fourthly, Brexit will enable us to take our seat on the world trade bodies which count. At the moment, we are represented by someone from the EU who is meant to be speaking for all 28 nations. Given the clout which Germany and especially protectionist France has within the EU, it’s fair to say that the UK’s interests have not been well served. We can also make our own trading arrangements and reorientate our trade away from the EU towards the growing economies of the world. Trade with the EU is important and must not be jeopardised by a gung-ho approach to the negotiations, but it is nonetheless declining as a percentage of total exports and this trend is likely to accelerate in the years to come.

There are umpteen other good and valid reasons for wishing to leave the EU. While we would concede to Mr Campbell that not every claim made by the Leave side in last year’s referendum campaign was totally accurate, such as the alleged £350 million weekly saving which would be available for the NHS, this does not negate the very real benefits we will gain from leaving this sclerotic organisation.

The idea that Mrs May is betraying our war heroes by invoking Article 50, as suggested by Michael Heseltine,  is therefore so ludicrous as to be laughable.  One of those surviving heroes, Bryan Neely, strongly disagreed with Heseltine’s claim that we have “handed {Germany} the opportunity to win the peace” by leaving the EU.  Mr Neely, now aged 92, said that “it was the EU which is letting down our war dead.”

“Winning the peace is certainly not about the UK being outnumbered or overruled in the EU,” he added. “The UK has had very little voice for a long time. You only need to see the lack of influence {David} Cameron had in his negotiations to see that.”

This is the crux of the matter. We were duped into joining an organisation that has never had our interests at heart and in so many fields has been progressively moving in a different direction from that which most in the UK would wish to go. The road back to freedom is going to be long and hard, with many potential pitfalls on the way, but there cannot be any turning back now. The EU wants us out. “The bus has gone,” as one senior diplomat expressed it recently. It is now up to the Government and Civil Service to make sure they get things right.

It’s time to establish what kind of relationship with the EU will be in the national interest

One of the myths put about by opponents of Brexit during the referendum campaign was that a Leave vote was a ‘leap into the dark’, or less energetically, a ‘step into the unknown’. While this may have suited Remain’s campaign narrative, suggesting that there was more fog around than could be found in a James Herbert horror novel was not a fair representation of the reality.

The truth is that a lot of work has been done on Brexit. But most of it has not had wide public recognition. That is not the fault of Eurosceptic thinkers and planners, but a counter-intuitive inevitability of our mass communications age – a matter of volume and noise, chance and choice.

It’s to improve the neon lighting that I have updated four major pieces of work from late last year. These were originally circulated in Eurosceptic circles by Better Off Out before the referendum started to motor. They are now more immediately relevant, especially for those engaged in restructuring the UK’s relationship with its EU counterparts, and have been further revisited to accommodate certain additional data that has since emerged.

The first in the updated series is being published today, for which I am hugely grateful to BrexitCentral. It’s intended to encourage those contemplating Brexit across Government to go back to brass tacks and think about what drove planners towards the EEC in the first place.

Simplistically put, the UK joined because key people concluded that the UK’s economic best interest lay in joining a developing customs union with economies that were amongst the best performing in the world, at a time of immense geo-strategic turbulence and threat.

We might usefully apply the same criteria today, though we would reach very different conclusions. Indeed, as the old Eurosceptic saying goes, if we weren’t already a member, we wouldn’t today want to join.

Looking more strategically at aspects of our relationship with the EU, there are several key components to the formula that I urge our diplomats and planners to reflect on afresh. The National Interest thus proposes a number of principles to help ministers and negotiators work out where the balance of interest lies. How close does the UK need to be with EU institutions? What areas does it genuinely need to cooperate in? At what point does Single Market affiliation start to add more costs that it saves? These are fundamentals that deserve to be challenged from scratch.

The answers to these questions will vary from country to country. The needs of the Slovakian economy (let alone the wider state) are very different from those of, say, Ireland. So this formula will carry separate significance for every nationality, and not just be of interest for Eurosceptic groups across the continent at that.

Reviewed dispassionately, the nature of all these variables puts the United Kingdom in a particular category that suggests a much looser arrangement is likely to be needed. That in turn implies that Whitehall has to be bold, ambitious, and to scan the horizon, if this country is to find its best relationship with the EU. Anything short of that will be at best a missed opportunity, at worst a strategic failure.

But we can’t get there without a reboot.

A problem the Brexit department faces is the starting biosphere, and the many streams and wells that have fed Whitehall ponds over the past decades. There has been too much of a monopoly on acquired wisdom fuelled by the Jean Monnet system – and its other EU-funded cousins, as we have seen in recent criticisms of the track records of some of our High Court judges.

This has had consequences less dire in the UK than in other states (a comparison that should be of some pride to our academics), but coupled with the EU’s immense PR machinery, it has still left deep marks on the base narrative.

Consider briefly the issue of the “Euromyth”, the media story that the Commission denies ever happened. As it turns out, as the source behind a number of those stories over the years, I can vouchsafe that many did indeed flow from genuine plans and proposals caught at an early stage. These were then, once they became public knowledge, subsequently and sensibly repudiated. Had they not been spotted, it is more than likely they would have become bad laws – again to be criticised, but at a point when they were beyond the point of easy repeal, and after causing millions of pounds of damage to the UK economy. (Unlike Will Straw, there was never a CBE for any Eurosceptic engaged in that thankless task, I might add.)

However, there is then a world of difference between saying a project that didn’t happen is a myth, and saying the Commission listened to the public’s concerns and then pulled the plug. Rather than ingeniously following the latter option, tellingly their press team resorted to the former. One is led to the conclusion staff do so because they believe their own spin, that nothing was happening. Eppur si muove, as Galileo might murmur before such inquisitors.

Couple this unhappy world of smoke and mirrors along with the complete strategic buy-in of government that has outlasted civil service careers, and one can begin to see how ingrained perceptions and interpretations might have become, and how a fresh appraisal by a new generation of civil servants can prove useful.

The baseline assumption across the Foreign Office has been that the UK’s national interest lay in EU membership, while lobbying to avoid the EU integrating too closely (or too quickly and perceptibly: it depended on whose notes you read).

Notwithstanding the entire Margaret Thatcher era, the hand of Heath still lies heavy on the Locarno Suite. While it has been exorcised by Thatcher from the rest of government, the Ghost of Suez still roams King Charles Street, wailing warnings of British decline. The policy response to that crisis was profound. Ditching EFTA was quite possibly the greatest strategic error since 1945. The 23rd June vote may have come just in time to allow a second model of European co-operation fully to re-emerge, an alternative with genuine prospect, more liquid in its form and thus less brittle.

In their review, planners need to go back to the foundation elements, reassessing what the national interest may be for any given state in its dealing with the EU, and how close its orbit profitably needs to be. Law drafters also need to grapple with the realities and complexities on the hierarchy of international standards setting (which has much less to do with the EU than most people believe). Business figures and City analysts need to acquaint themselves with what the default deals mean without the red tape generated just for EU suppliers and manufacturers and not for anyone else. In short, everyone in Central London needs to put the kettle on and completely rethink what trade agreements are there to do.

I choose to be optimistic. Our civil servants are intelligent, hard-working, patriotic people. They will tackle this task head on – if inspired to do so, and given the tools and leadership to be bold and innovative.

But four decades of assumptions need to be dumped across Government first, and across all levels of management. I hope these four short e-publications help achieve that vital national reboot, starting today with the base coding.

Peer reminds House of Lords that “Brexit means leave” and the Government should “get on with it”

Speaking in a debate on the Government’s statement about the G20 summit (07.09.16), the independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has reminded the House of Lords that “Brexit means leave” and that the referendum vote was an instruction to the Government “to get on with it.”

Lord Stoddart made his remarks after listening to a number of Peers making speeches spreading doom and gloom about Brexit and the state of play regarding the preparations for withdrawal.  He added that the electorate “were asked whether they wished to remain or whether they wished to leave. They decided that they wanted to leave. That was an instruction to the Government to get on with it. The great disgrace is that the Government and the Civil Service had not prepared for either alternative. That, of course, is the problem we are facing now.”

The full text of Lord Stoddart’s remarks is as follows:

Hansard – debate on the G20 Summit statement 7.09.16

Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, I have listened to the debate with great interest. A lot of noble Lords do not appear to know what Brexit means. Brexit means leave. That is precisely the question that the electorate answered. They were asked whether they wished to remain or whether they wished to leave. They decided that they wanted to leave. That was an instruction to the Government to get on with it. The great disgrace is that the Government and the Civil Service had not prepared for either alternative. That, of course, is the problem we are facing now.

But it is not all doom and gloom. There is a great future ahead, as there has been a great, historic past. We should take hold of that. We should not be supplicants; we are a great country and we should use our power for the good of this country and the rest of the world.

I found the second paragraph of page 3 very interesting. Does it mean that the Government are moving towards syndicalism?

 

Chairman’s Statement 11th July 2016

Since the referendum result, we have been holding informal discussions with friends and allies from left to right of the political spectrum about the best way to keep pressure on the government to deliver its BREXIT promise.

In the midst of such discussions on 11th July, we heard that that Mrs Leadsom had withdrawn from the Conservative leadership election and that Mrs. May would therefore be the new Prime Minister – and very much more quickly than expected.

Whilst many campaigners would have preferred a Brexit campaigner, Mrs May has reasserted her determination to deliver BREXIT and she now effectively has another two months to hasten the process. We intend to give her every encouragement in that.

Mr. Cameron was so confident of a “Remain” vote that he had forbidden the civil service to make any “Plan B” for leaving. So it would be ridiculous to urge the government into prematurely starting negotiations  before  it has had time to formulate its policy and negotiating strategy.

There is a period now when the Independence Movement  has an opportunity to make its views known to those in authority before negotiations with the EU start.  This has come rather sooner and more urgently than we expected.

 We have to bear in mind the parameters under which the decisions will be made and to be realistic. In the House of Commons  roughly half the Conservative party, the DUP and the Labour rebels were  for BREXIT. The other half of the Conservative party and everybody else was either pro EU or at least EU-acquiescent – an overwhelmingly Europhile House. The House of Lords is even more solidly  ( and rather defiantly) Europhile.

So the delivery of BREXIT will largely depend on the discipline of the Conservative party in keeping its Europhile MPs to its policy of leaving the EU. Some people have demanded a general election but we now have fixed term parliaments. This one has nearly four years to run – an adequate time for the government to deliver its promise and to have an independence settlement in place, up and running by the time of the next general election in May 2020. We in CIB want to do everything to ensure that this is what happens and that the terms are the most favourable possible from a trade point of view whilst establishing unequivocally that our country is definitively, irrevocably independent from the EU’s political project.

Shouting slogans will not do it. We have to focus our efforts in a disciplined way and apply them to the situation as it exists. This we are trying to do to the best effect but it is going to take some more time to establish a common general approach amongst the diverse Independence Movement.

BBC muddying the waters

Anyone listening to the BBC news last week would have heard a misleading headline that Germany’s  finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that we would not be allowed to stay in the Single market

However, if you listened to the article in full, what he actually said was that if we were to stay in the Single Market, we would have to abide by the rules, including accepting the “four freedoms”. In other words, a bespoke deal isn’t on offer.

This is no great shakes. Whatever the wishes of many “leave” supporters, it will be the government which negotiates our exit strategy and we know that senior civil servants have been downloading Flexcit, an exit strategy document co-authored by, among others, Dr Richard North and CIB Committee member Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group. This advocates remaining in the Single Market by re-joinng EFTA and ths accessing it via the EEA agreement.

Herr  Schäuble’s words on which the BBC based their headline were given in response to the assertion that “Britain could continue to enjoy the benefits of the single market without being an EU member, in the same way that Switzerland and Norway do.” He replied, “That won’t work. It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw. If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

As Dr North pointed out,  “The man thinks the EFTA/EEA (interim) option wouldn’t work. And that is on the basis of his interpretation that a vote for Brexit by the British people necessarily means a rejection of participation in the Single Market….What we have therefore, is an opinion based on an assumption, and nothing more than that – from a politician who is not a head of government, and who may not even be in office by the time Article 50 negotiations start in earnest……The finance minister is just another noisemaker in a debate polluted by noise.

While it is true that the degree of extra control over immigration which the EEA/EFTA route will allow us is not the same as that which may Brexit supporters desire, a recent poll conducted by Opinium, for the Bruges Group,  yielded the following results:

33% = Remain EU and Remain in the Single Market
13% =  Leave EU, join  EFTA, Remain in Single Market
39% = Leave EU, and have a Free Trade Agreement
16% = Don’t Know
Taking out the Don’t Knows, gives:
61% =Options to Leave EU (FTA + EFTA)
39% = Options to remain in the EU

(See here for a more detailed analysis of the result)
The poll shows that so strong is the desire of many to leave the EU that they are not taking much notice of the economic arguments. The “leave” side, however, needs to clean up its act. Recent polls are encouraging, but it would be a shame to lose a winnable referendum when the finishing post is in sight  because we are unable to reassure floating voters concerned about their economic wellbeing that the sky won’t fall in on  June 24th.  EEA/EFTA provides precisely such reassurance.