The quality of our future arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world will be directly related to the calibre of the teams negotiating them. Right now, across all Government Departments there is a rapid scramble to assemble those teams to deliver the best Brexit deal possible.
This time last week Oliver Letwin, who was due to play a “facilitative role” in the creation of a new 250 strong Brexit unit, admitted that the UK lacks trade negotiators in particular. This echoes our prediction post-referendum, and heralds a significant recruitment challenge that will see many external experts contracted to new Government teams. We understand that secondees from PWC have already been signed up to help with economic modelling. Worryingly many senior civil servants, usually professionally neutral to the core, are privately reconsidering their commitment to staying in post to deliver a verdict that many voted against. Our best hope is that they, like all remainers, just need time to grieve before redoubling their efforts.
Crudely, our new PM will face a choice between joining EEA or EFTA, paying similar contributions and accepting the rules, without a seat at the table to debate them or negotiate a ‘free trade’ deal, all of which could create customs, tariffs and IP challenges for UK industries. This helpful chart from the Institute for Government sets out the options in more detail here. Our final settlement is most likely to be an ugly political compromise that has to bridge the gap between perception and reality – can it be sold to the electorate but allow sufficient grey areas in implementation? If there is a third way that can be found in the next few months it will be down to the efforts of some important people you have probably never heard of.
Inextricably linked to Cameron, Oliver Letwin had said he would leave his post on 9th Sept when the new Conservative Leader and Prime Minister was appointed. Given yesterday's turn of events we wait to see who will replace him as the 'Brexit' Minister in Theresa May's new cabinet. Commentators are tipping, Leave campaigner, current leader of the Commons and May's campaign organiser, Chris Grayling for the role. Beyond that key appointment, who will be quantifying the civil service skills gap, driving the recruitment and ultimately presenting our new Prime Minister with the scenario plans and costed options from which they will determine their trade negotiation mandate?
Meet the three men (yes, all men) you have (probably) never heard of who will play a key role in preparing for our 'Brexit' negotiations over the next few months:
1. Tom Scholar, Permanent Secretary of HM Treasury. Scholar became the top civil servant at the Treasury at the end of March 2016. He was the Prime Minister’s adviser on European and Global Issues, sherpa for the EU, G7 and G20, and Head of the European and Global Issues Secretariat previously, playing a central role in Cameron’s challenging pre-referendum renegotiation process. Tom joined HM Treasury in 1992 and went on to hold various roles covering economic forecasting, general expenditure policy, foreign exchange reserves and banking supervision. He was Principal Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1998 to 2001. He then moved to Washington where he was the UK’s Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and Minister (Economic) at the British Embassy. We understand the entire ground floor of HM Treasury has been cleared to make way for 50 new desks, currently standing in silent testimony to the capacity challenge Scholar now faces.
2. Olly Robbins, Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office Brexit Unit. Olly Robbins has been appointed to lead the UK’s Brexit negotiations, bringing together officials from the Treasury, Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. They will be based in the Cabinet Office, bulking out the existing European and Global Issues Secretariat, to be close to the Prime Minister and report directly to the Cabinet. Whitehall wisdom suggests that the unit will adopt the model of the UK’s Permanent Representation in Brussels (UKRep) co-ordinating and leading from the centre but still ensuring cross Government engagement from all Departments. Robbins is currently the second permanent secretary at the Home Office and has been described as “a civil service high flyer responsible for policy on immigration and free movement”. He is the trusted protégé of Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and has had a long civil service career spanning HM Treasury, Downing Street and the main board of an operational agency. Colleagues describe him as personable and pragmatic, with greater emotional intelligence than some mandarins. It is likely that his time at the Home Office will have stood him in good stead in terms of his relationship and understanding with the new PM.
3. Sir Julian King CMG CVO, new UK Commissioner to the EU and former UK Ambassador to the French Republic. As a man with an excellent reputation in Brussels circles, it is not surprising that Cameron has put King forward to be the UK’s next EU Commissioner, nor that Juncker has given him his approval. He is currently HM Ambassador to the French Republic, and prior to this was Direct General Economic and Consular at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In this role, King was a leader on Europe, prosperity and migration. He has served at the UK representation in Brussels, as well as in New York, Paris, Luxembourg, The Hague, Lisbon and London.
Given the ongoing Labour civil war, we're also tipping SNP Europe Spokesman Stephen Gethins MP and Select Committee Chairs Crispin Blunt MP (Foreign) and Bernard Jenkin MP (Public Accounts and Constitutional Affairs) as key figures who will scrutinise the new Government's progress on 'Brexit' negotiations.