While Brexit remains a mystery, ministers indulge in empire building and turf wars

The Guardian reports:

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, made an attempted power grab on key areas of Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office, writing to his colleague and the prime minister, Theresa May, in an effort to wrest control of Britain’s overseas economic policy, a leaked letter has revealed.

Tensions have been escalating between the Foreign Office and Fox’s Department for International Trade, but the former defence secretary’s suggestion has apparently been given short shrift by No 10, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Within a fortnight of arriving at the newly created department, Fox wrote to Johnson, copying in May, to ask for economic diplomacy – a key function of the Foreign Office – to become part of the remit of his department.

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson, remarked:

Johnson and Fox are more concerned with Westminster power games than rebuilding Britain’s standing in the world after the Brexit that they both campaigned for. The Prime Minister has told the press she won’t have it, but it seems like it’s time she told them to their faces.

I suggest they both take a trip to their sizeable shared country home, Chevening, to sort out their differences and come up with an actual plan for Britain’s foreign policy going forward.

Most people don’t care about the egos of two pompous characters who are acting like the protoganists from deVito’s ‘the War of the Roses’. What they do care about is Britain’s international reputation, which is currently plummeting fast.

Meanwhile, the organisation chart of the new Department for Exiting the EU reveals the department has seven directors and an eye-watering 24 deputy directors.

While such turf wars and empire building goes on, what Brexit will actually mean, apart from, er, Brexit, is still very unclear.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Stevan Rose 17th Aug '16 - 4:52pm

    7 Senior Civil Servants and 24 on the highest rung of middle management to extract us from a fiendishly complex relationship going back 35 years and that’s eye watering? It looks pretty lean to me. Perhaps too lean. It would worry me that the structure is not going to cope with the quantity and complexity of what they will face. But then that might be the idea.

    Liam Fox tries it on. Gets knocked back. No news there, they’re politicians after all.

  • Bernard Aris 18th Aug '16 - 3:05am

    The whole Brexit Department is the best affirmation that the law, formulated in 1955 by C. Northcote Parkinson (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson's_law ) that the Colonial Office had its greatest expansion when the Empire started shrinking substantially with the loss of the Raj, is still functioning. Northcote also told us that two forces explain this growth: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” Sir Humphrey Appleby is still alive and kicking, never fear!
    Mind you, all that is even before the gold-plated experts and consultants for the actual Brexit- and Trade Deal-negotiations (highlighted by Tim Farrons PMQ question) start rolling in in their humble Rolls Royces and Bentleys (Maserati’s are Italian, thus EU, thus taboo); those cars need the highest quality care in purpose-build garages. Can anybody find a reservation on the budget for those garages, and for the 74th floor offices of those experts (they’ll want to be able to physically watch the enemy across the Channel at all times, you know)?

    You ask yourself: what is more important for those top politicians who advocated Brexit: spending money on all those Civil Service panjandrums needed to realise Brexit, or more expenditure on Social Housing and fixing A&E departments and Mental Health facilities for all those millions of voters who voted for brexit as a protest vote against years of government neglect of those things?

  • I believe the Romans are credited with inventing “Divide and conquer”. By putting those three (Johnson, Fox and Davis) in charge of overlapping and likely to be warring departments, that is what May is doing. On purpose, I suspect.

  • Not (as above) Rolls or Bentley …. EU owners 🙂 how bout motor bike & side car … Boris, Liam & Davis could ride to meetings together …. the clueless bikers 🙂

  • “millions of voters who voted for brexit as a protest vote against years of government neglect ”

    Of course Libdems have been living off such protest votes for many years 🙂

  • Bernard Aris 18th Aug '16 - 4:57pm

    @ Peter Kemp
    At least Johnson is a “Hairy Biker”, doing his stuff around the world. 😉

    If the LibDems ever have been living off the protest vote, that came to a sudden halt with the Tuition Fees downfall.
    Since then, it was mostly conviction voting; being in a coalition, you cannot vote against your government but still for your party…
    And, at local level, Community politics gave voters reason(s) to vote for the LibDems…

  • BA
    Was it the tuition fees really, or was it more likely due to being a willing whipping boy in the coalition as well as trying to compete with the greens for a paltry number of green votes in a country that wants jobs, not job-killing ideas.

    I also don’t think we defended ourselves enough about the tuition fees policy which showed Clegg up poorly. All he had to do was remind the media that Labour introduced tuition fees in the first place and Tories increased them so for either to make a stink about a pledge that Libs could not deliver on by dint of coming 3rd in the election was the purest hypocrisy. As for the students who sounded off – all he had to do was ask them who they voted for. Since the majority obviously voted for Labour he could just reply ‘well if tuition fees were so important to you then you’d have voted for the only party who had a costed plan to get rid of them rather than the party who introduced them’.

    Ergo, the real problem imo was that we had a leader with no leadership skills! And that continues with a current leader who is more concerned with how to spend money we don’t have on truly marginal issues when he should be proposing a proper energy, housing and industry plan for growth and jobs. With Labour in meltdown this is a real opportunity! Nobody wants to vote for a party with such minor and irrelevant ambitions.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Aug '16 - 6:13pm

    Bernard Aris: Johnson is a “Hairy Biker”: Boris Johnson please, brother Jo is a Minister.

  • I take it, Bernard Aris, that you are unaware of the London salary rates for civil servants in this country with a 6 year freeze and increased pension contributions. Not much left after housing costs for a second hand Ford Focus. They may have to bring in short term consultants but knowing the deals this government has been going for, there won’t be much fat in that budget either. Non-permanent civil servants never ever get parking spaces. And the tallest building in Dover used by government and with a view of France, Burlington House, appears now to have been demolished and was pretty awful anyway. The stereotyping is mildly amusing but not very helpful. The main problem will be staffing the Department with pro-Brexit senior and middle management. They may struggle finding enthusiasts amongst the establishment and outsiders are incredibly easy to derail. You’d be lucky to get chrome plated base metal let alone gold plating. I will find it incredibly funny if they have to invite tenders via the OJEU process for consultancy services and the contract goes to one of the French firms because of EU rules.

  • With Fox May was really scraping the barrel.

  • David Allen 20th Aug '16 - 1:05pm

    I agree with Stevan Rose on this one. The Department for Exiting the EU is not too large, it’s too small. It needs to be more like the Ministry of War in wartime. It needs to be bigger and more powerful that the Treasury, the Foreign Office, or the Home Office. We have taken on a massive project of national self-destruction that will consume all the energies of Government for many years to come. I can’t think of any previous voluntary global political change that has been truly comparable in magnitude and complexity, except perhaps the partition of India after the Second World War.

    Only if we tackle this on something like a war footing will we stand a chance of making any sort of success out of it. That success could either be a Brexit that reduces the damage to a just-about-tolerable level, or else a decision not to Brexit.

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