Politicians generally don’t give much thought to managing risks associated with their policies. After all, risks are part of the downside of their policies (or ‘bright ideas’) and the territory of the opposition to be airbrushed or spun 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, the economy, the National Health Service etc., it is a successful Brexit that presents unique challenges. In addition, the government was unprepared; Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne prevented the Civil Service from preparing any viable Brexit plan. So how well are Mrs May and Mr Davis doing in both 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. A ‘pilot’ who knows nothing (if allowed to fly at all) is potentially dangerous, and so is a politician. Yet the government does not give any serious indication of knowing much about how international trade or the EU works or how trade deals are negotiated. There is little or no detail in Mrs May and Mr Davis’s pronouncements. It is mainly robotic mantras, aspirations and wishful thinking. There also seems to be an unwillingness to acquire that in-depth knowledge.
Subject knowledge is not enough to manage risks. Our Brexit team need 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, hence achieving an acceptable outcome. 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 being used elsewhere. The EU’s approach also fits in well with extending centralised control into ever increasing activities and fulfilling its mission of creating a super-state.
The traditional alternative to the EU’s approach to risk management is through accountability. When things go wrong there is civil court, damages, or even criminal prosecution, and for politicians being ejected from office. Everything then is (theoretically and in English law) 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 by being schooled outside the EU loop, seem unable to understand or accept the EU’s rigidity, its risk control rationale or the implications on Brexit negotiations and the resulting risks posed.
Mrs May’s decision to leave the Single Market and instead negotiate a bespoke free trade agreement supposedly providing equivalent utility appears indicative of poor risk management. It was reportedly made by her alone after consulting her sole closest advisor and without involvement of the cabinet or even discussing it with them. A similar story seems to apply to the decision to call a general election in last June, with disastrous results for her party and her reputation. Mrs May then appears to make decisions based on flimsy advice and where sensible safeguards or risk management tools are ignored.
Mrs May has likely selected the most difficult and complex Brexit option to follow 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 mitigate risks as time marches on.
Negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU again demonstrates 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 may (incredibly) do so, but this is a very risky proposition, that a significant part of the future economic well-being of the country is being put at risk until the last minute. It is a wild gamble on successfully negotiating a myriad of potentially show stopping trade (and other) conditions that ignores the EU’s general approach to risk management (outlined above).
Caving in to Mrs May’s demands (for an ambitious, innovative, deep and special relationship) would make an exception for this country, which requires safeguards to be put in place by the EU to manage risks. Granting any exceptions to one country (even if possible) opens up disorderly and uncontrolled challenges elsewhere and could violate the EU’s general risk control philosophy.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, spun as providing certainty, in the fundamentally changed situation of being a ‘third country’ outside the EU and the Single Market obviously contains many undisclosed potential problems and risks. Every piece of transposed EU legislation may not actually function as intended, because it includes close integration with the EU and its administrative apparatus in order to work, allow for derogations and to make changes and ignores interlinking or reciprocal actions the EU would need to take.
Brexit provides the opportunity to escape the clutches of the EU’s political folly with its unaccountable, extravagant agenda to create a super-state at every opportunity and at all costs to its subsumed peoples. Effective risk management historically does not form part of the EU’s political agenda or mitigate its actions. The return of full responsible government to these shores should mean its responding positively to the wishes of the people, accepting responsibility for its actions and most importantly of all its behaving responsibly.