Rather than being constrained by diktats from Brussels, UK civil servants now have the ability to think creatively about draft legislation tailoring it to UK needs. However, some are struggling to adapt to this new way of working, says John Redwood.
Civil service jobs have just got a lot more interesting. Instead of having to relay the EU instruction to a frustrated Minister the two can now work together on a better answer for the UK. It’s called democracy and it could catch on.
One of the strengths of the old UK constitution was an independent civil service. They could give honest and fearless advice to Ministers, who would make their decision following discussion with them. Civil servants would then implement the decision. Only Ministers announced and defended new policy. Ministers took the blame if mistakes we made whilst defending their officials who could not speak out for themselves.
This model was changed in two ways during our time in the EU. Government created more public bodies to carry out policy or to regulate. This gave to their senior officials a voice, and meant they had to accept responsibility themselves without the full protection of the Minister. As the powers of the EU expanded, spreading a vast canopy of EU law above our own law, so officials started telling Ministers that many of the things they wanted to do were illegal under EU law and therefore could not figure in the Ministerial decision. All too many so called Ministerial decisions were instructions from officials who took their orders from Brussels.
Now we are leaving the EU I am told some important officials are finding it hard to adjust to serve a sovereign UK government. They are still running to Brussels for instruction, and telling Ministers that things are against EU laws which Ministers wish to change or will no longer apply. It is true Ministers want to keep big areas of EU law like employment and environmental laws, but there are other areas where people and politicians want change.
Many want to press on with negotiating trade deals with non-EU countries. Some officials claim this is against EU law and cannot be done until we leave. I see no evidence of that in the Treaties. Clearly, we cannot sign a trade deal until the date we leave, but what is stopping sorting one out ahead of departure? To do so will not damage the EU. As we are leaving their jurisdiction there is no crime the day we leave.
We want a UK fishing policy. Let’s get on and design and legislate one so it’s ready for April 2019 when we depart. Of course, that’s against current EU rules, but as long as it only applies from the day we leave there is again no violation of the Treaty. Civil service jobs have just got a lot more interesting. Instead of having to relay the EU instruction to a frustrated Minister the two can now work together on a better answer for the UK. It’s called democracy and it could catch on.