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).”

When they say “Divisive”…

One of the words that has been bandied around a lot lately has been “divisive”.

We have all heard it, usually on the BBC from unreconciled Remain votes or from grumpy Hilary Clinton supporters. We are supposed to believe that there was something uniquely “divisive” about the decision to leave the European Union. Or, in the American context, something unbelievably “divisive” about the decision to put Donald Trump into the White House.

Note that the cry went up from the losers in both these nationwide votes long before anything had actually happened. Brexit was “divisive” before Article 50 has been triggered, let alone Britain actually leaving the EU. Similarly, Trump’s victory was “divisive” before he even got to the White House, never mind actually did anything with his new found power.

So, I’ve been thinking about these outcries from the defeated. Is Brexit really divisive? No, I don’t think that it is. So why all the talk about Britain becoming more divided?

I think that there are two things going on here.

First, it might be that some of the losers are seeking to undermine the Brexit victory (and probably the Trump victory too). By painting the decision as utterly disastrous even before it has taken effect, those who have not accepted the decision hope that they can overturn it at some point in the future.

But there is something else. Look at the people who are talking about Brexit being divisive. These are almost without exception the gilded élite. Those who went to good schools, effortlessly slipped into well paid jobs and now live in nice houses in nice neighbourhoods with nice social circles. They tend support a multi-cultural society, support decarbonisation to fight climate change and back the whole host of soft-left doctrines.

By and large these people have had their way in politics and in society all their lives. They like multi-culturalism and large scale immigration and bask in the advantages it brings, without having to put up with their children being elbowed out of the local school due to high demand for places. They can smugly impose decarbonisation policies secure in the knowledge that they can afford the higher fuel bills that they bring.

And now, just for once, they have not got their way. The great unwashed have risen up and rejected the European Union – another of the unquestioned shibboleths of the soft-left.

How awful. How shocking. How “divisive”.

Our friends from the gilded élite have, probably for the first time in their lives, realised that not everyone agrees with them. For the first time in their lives they have not got their way on one of the big issues in life.

I pray fervently that it will not be the last time.

 

Rise up? Throw up more likely!

Politicians rely on people’s short memories and none more so than Tony Blair, who must rate as one of the most deceitful, despised characters ever to have been Prime Minister. So his recruitment to the Europhile cause, trying to get people to “rise up” and overturn the democratic decision to leave the EU, is most welcome to independence campaigners.

Even Simon Jenkins in the Guardian has said Blair should “butt out”, adding that “former Prime Ministers do not campaign against the people”  Our President, my colleague George West, agrees. “It is time for the people of Britain to rise up against Tony Blair, a man who promised to take the UK out of the EEC if elected to Parliament.He should remember his promise  and stop blethering on about trying to keep us inside the European Union.”

Let us remember, he is the man who sent our troops into Iraq, ill-equipped on the strength of a dodgy dossier which was later found to have been plagiarised from a student’s thesis on the internet. The Weapons of Mass Destruction did not exist. Many better men than he were sent to their deaths or disablement on the strength of his deceit.

He now pretends concern that the controversy over Brexit could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, yet he and his government bear the greatest responsibility for this. Devolution in Scotland and Wales was quite deliberately “asymmetric” – that is unbalanced and unfair, creating bad feeling between people in different parts of the kingdom.

Blair’s deputy, John Prescott, set about completing the process of dividing Britain by trying to create elected regional assemblies in England. The people of the North East rejected that soundly. Had the programme succeeded, the whole country would have been balkanised into regions of around 5 million people with their own representation in Brussels – bite-sized chunks for easier digestion by the EU. Scotland and Wales are, of course, EU regions.

The ideology for this was set out in a report on British identity by the Runnymede Trust which Blair commissioned. It was chaired by Lord Parekh and came to the conclusion that we now were “a nation of communities” and that the very terms British and Britain were so laden with racism that their use should be discouraged and, if possible, discontinued. On that account, the report considered a completely new name for our country but, in the end, made no recommendation.

These are the sort of people who will be backing Blair and who have made the very name “Blairite” one of the most deadly insults possible within the Labour party and its former supporters. David Cameron, of course, aspired to be “the heir to Blair” and the country gave him his marching orders with the referendum. Their day is done. With challenges as well as opportunities, we are on our way to being a free country now.

President Trump gives the EU (and other supranational organisations) a health check

During last year’s EU referendum campaign, Michael Gove said “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts.” In full, his words actually were “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong“, but it is the first few words which made the headlines. In one sense, the American electorate showed a similar distrust of “experts” in rejecting Hillary Clinton, the classic political insider, in favour of Donald Trump, the only US president to date who had never previously held political office.

The new incumbent of the White House is thus a fresh pair of eyes and ears, unencumbered by years of working with people who have – at times subconsciously – adopted the accepted wisdom about certain aspects of today’s world order (including the role of certain supranational organisations), without question. He has therefore been able to come in as an outsider and give these organisations a “health check” from a refreshingly different angle. His diagnoses, however, have not been very welcome in some quarters.

Even before his election, his call for other members of NATO to pull their weight caused a few ripples of discontent, but few could dispute his logic- why should the USA continually guarantee the defences of countries who are not prepared to defend themselves? The chart in this article is a damning indictment of the USA’s partners’ stinginess when it comes to their armed forces. Only four other countries, including the UK, met the agreed target of spending 2%  of GDP on defence whereas America spent more than 3.5%.

NATO, however, looks likely to retain President Trump’s support, in spite of his description of it as “obsolete”.  What does appear obsolete is the “liberal interventionism” beloved of Tony Blair, which moved the goalposts of NATO’s original objectives and turned it into an aggressive force in the Balkans. for instance. Last week, in her speech to the Republican Party’s congress in Philadelphia, Mrs May received solid support for saying “the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”   NATO needs a re-boot, but looks like it still has a future.

But what about the European Union? President Trump has continued to express the same support for Brexit he showed during the election campaign and has since made clear the degree of his distaste for the EU as well. Theresa May has already travelled across the Atlantic to meet with him while Angela Merkel has had to be content with a phone call. Trump’s dislike of bureaucracy has already manifested itself in a freeze on hiring federal officials except for the military. It is therefore unsurprising that he dislikes the EU.

In the words of  Ted Malloch, the new US ambassaador to the EU, “He doesn’t like an organisation that is supranational, that is unelected where the bureaucrats run amok and that is not frankly a proper democracy.” The appointment of Malloch, an American academic based in the UK, will not go down well in Brussels. He was a strong supporter of Brexit and is no admirer of the EU project, being quoted as saying “I helped bring down the Soviet Union, so maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming,”

Malloch also described Jean-Claude Juncker, the current President of the European Commission as a “very adequate mayor of some city in Luxembourg”. Given that it was the USA – or rather the American CIA, which was the driving force behind establishing what has become the EU in the 1950s, the language from Team Trump represents a significant change of policy towards Brussels. Anthony Gardner, the previous ambassador to the EU appointed by President Obama, has expressed concern at this change of policy. His statement that there was a “good reason” for the USA to support European integration will nonetheless cut little ice with the new President whose inaugural speech, peppered with references to “America First”, highlights his belief in the nation state as the best means of advancing the interests of its citizens.

The reaction in Brussels to the Trump victory and its aftermath has been pretty grim, especially as it has emboldened anti-EU parties in France, Germany and the Netherlands in a year when elections are looming in all three countries. As far as Brexit is concerned, however, the presence of a sympathetic President in the White House will do our country no harm. Mrs May handled her transatlantic visit well and even though it contained more symbolism than substance, that symbolism was very significant:- her successful meeting with the US President coming the same week as the Article 50 Bill was published has taken us still further past the point of no return even though we haven’t even formally begun the exit process.

It is not only the EU which may feel a cold blast from Washington. President Trump is rumoured to be planning a substantial de-funding of the United Nations – another supranational organisation which clearly doesn’t impress him.  There is some support for such a move in Congress. “The United Nations (U.N.) has proven to be an ineffective and wasteful bureaucracy. The U.S. bankrolls nearly 22 percent of the U.N.’s annual budget,”  said Representative Mike Rogers from Alabama. It is not totally impossible that the US may withdraw from the  UN completely, in which case, its very future may be in doubt.

These policies may sound radical, but it must be remembered that the decade following the end of the Second World War which saw the establishment of the world’s leading international and supranational organisations – NATO, the UN, the International Monetary Fund and at least in embryo,  the EU – is now a long time ago. In those days, there may have been widespread consent that these organisations were necessary to rebuild the world after one world war while helping to prevent another, but the world has moved on since the late 1940s and 1950s. What is wrong with someone asking whether these organisations are still fit for purpose or even necessary some 70 years later?  After all, many features of daily life in the late 1940s, such as Watney’s Red Barrel, rationing and the regular use of steam locomotives have long since disappeared.

Even President Trump will have to battle hard to overcome vested interest – the lobbyists of Brussels and people who have made a very lucrative career as supranationalist bureaucrats. Even so, no fair-minded person should complain that once in a while the whole world system should be given a health check, especially given the alternative is “as it was in the beginning (or at least the 1940s and 1950s)  is now and ever shall be. Bureaucracy and supranationalism without end. Amen.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

So said the angels when they announced the birth of our Lord to the shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. And in that spirit at this festive time of year I thought I should break off from the more angst-ridden feelings I might have and instead offer some well-meant advice, whether the recipients want it or not.

The truth is that over the past few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am mightily glad that I am not a Supreme Court Judge. Having watched some of the proceedings earlier this month and read some of the submissions (not all I will admit), it is clear to me that the issues with which they are asked to grapple are complex indeed. Complex enough to give anyone indigestion over their Xmas pud.

Now to me the overall issues are quite straightforward. Governments have routinely agreed to European Union (and before that EEC) treaties using the royal prerogative, so I can see no good reason why they cannot repeal those same treaties in the same way.

No doubt the devil is in the detail. Which is how all those highly paid lawyers make such a fat living, and good luck to them.

No, the advice I wish to give is more about presentation than about content. We all know that the law needs to be applied impartially, without fear or favour and that justice needs to be seen to be done. On such a highly fraught issues as triggering Article 50 this is going to be difficult.

There is undoubtedly a worry, perhaps even a fear, abroad that the wealthy, well connected elites who want us to stay in the European Union are going to use their wealth and connections to try to achieve those ends. If the judges are going to have their ruling accepted they need to lay that ghost to rest.

It was for this reason that I thought it a shame that all the judges are sitting on this case. It is usual for only some of the judges to sit on a case. That would have been quite in order and would have raised little or no comment. But instead we have all of them sitting – including two about whom questions have been raised. That alone smacks of sticking two fingers up to the concerned members of the public and is not a good start.

When the judgment comes I would suggest that it should be written in clear and precise English. If there are any precedents, they need to be explained. If there is any legal jargon, that needs to be explained. This document is going to be pored over by far more people than normally read legal judgments, Many of those folks, like me, are not lawyers and may struggle to understand fully complex legal jargon. If justice is to be seen to be done, this judgment will need to be delivered in plain English.

Having looked at some other cases relating to the EU, that in itself is going to be a difficult and demanding job. But if it is not done that way then whichever side loses may well feel that they have somehow been hoodwinked by clever lawyers, and that is not going to help anyone.

Merry Christmas!

From Bruges to Maastricht to Brexit

Buffet Dinner with Wine

A Celebration of the Independence Movement from Bruges to Maastricht to Brexit

Tuesday, 6th December 2016 – From 6.30pm

With Andrew Roberts, FRHistS FRSL  an historian, journalist and broadcaster. As well as appearing regularly on British television and radio, Andrew Roberts writes for The Sunday Telegraph and reviews history books and biographies for that newspaper as well as The Spectator. He is a Visiting Professor at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Amongst others he is the author of The Storm of War, a look at the Second World War covering historical factors such as Hitler’s rise to power and the organisation of Nazi Germany. Other works include Eminent Churchillians, Salisbury: Victorian Titan, Napoleon and Wellington and , a novel which he has described as “a dystopian vision of what Britain might turn into if it became a minor of a vast protectionist, illiberal, politically correct.” Andrew Roberts is also a member of the Bruges Group’s Academic Advisory Council.

This special reception is to celebrate the Brexit victory and put it in its historical context of the long battle over many decades to restore our sovereignty. This started with Margret Thatcher’s Bruges Speech. She exposed the folly of European centralisation and instead advocated a Europe of democratic, decentralised nation states. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Speech, where she outlined her alternative vision for Britain and Europe. Its effect was dramatic on the debate over Britain’s future relations with the fast accelerating process of European integration. The Prime Minister’s speech was one of vision, clarity and foreboding. With chilling accuracy she predicted the dangers of European integration. Next the Maastricht rebels took up the gauntlet. Their bold sacrifice, defying the government over the Maastricht Treaty, which provided the framework for European government and the establishment of the eurozone, showed to the country the dangers of EU centralisation, the full implications of which are being played out today. Public opinion was coming our way, the genie was out. Brexit was the inevitable consequence.
If you cannot attend the dinner please support the Bruges to Maastricht to Brexit Appeal. The battle to achieve a prompt and effective exit from the European Union must also be won.
Agenda:
Drinks Reception: 
6.30pm – 7pm
Buffet Dinner:
7pm – 8pm
Speeches:
From 7.30pm
Followed by Auction
DRESS CODE: Lounge Suit