The Irish Times view on British politics: Brexit purge continues
Brexiteers in British government are now taking on independent civil service
Having carried the referendum, seized control of the Tory Party, and now of the reins of government, the Brexit campaign leadership, with Boris Johnson as their figurehead, is taking the axe to the independent civil service. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/ EPA/ UK Parliament
The Brexiteer revolution rolls on. Or, more accurately, the Dominic Cummings revolution. Having carried the referendum, seized control of the Tory Party, and now of the reins of government, the Brexit campaign leadership, with prime minister Boris Johnson as their figurehead, is taking the axe to the root of the administrative pillar of government, the independent civil service.
“Almost every arm of government, and those with powerful voices within it, seemed estranged from the majority in 2016,” Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, executioner in chief and third arm of the Brexit axis leadership, complained at the weekend before cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill “resigned”. Echoing Johnson, Gove also put a new, improbable ideological gloss to the revolution – the New Deal politics of FDR. Its rather socialist emphasis on state spending and massive infrastructure projects will have Mrs Thatcher spinning in her grave and alarm not a few old-school Tories.
Sir Mark, the shortest-lived cabinet secretary, also relinquished the national security adviser job. His replacement made the Brexit link explicit – Johnson appointee as chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, a man with no security experience, as former PM Theresa May pointed out angrily.
The purge of senior civil servants – or making their lives too uncomfortable to stay – will continue. Gove’s coded message will be understood – Whitehall departments to be dispersed around the country to allow more room for innovation, a wider talent pool, and an end to the rule of senior mandarins. The competence of a well-regarded public service is clearly less important to the Johnson/Cummings regime than getting advice from officials that chimes with their prejudices. The idea that the civil servive was always part of the europhile establishment and conspiring against the Brexit project has always been a leitmotif of their propaganda.
But ministers who are incapable of hearing independent advice will inevitably pay a heavy price in their ability to deliver on their project.