The same team that brought you the Windrush Scandal is bringing you the Brexit Shambles .
And the two share the same fatal flaws . Poorly formed Policy based on Soundbites :
‘Really hostile environment ‘
‘Make life difficult for people without papers ‘
‘Brexit means Brexit’
‘All the benefits ‘
‘No Hard Borders’
‘Leaving the Customs Union‘
Tacking to the Right
What they have in common is that they were both inspired by what the Conservative Party perceived as a need to tack to the right in order to shore up support within the party and to see off the UKIP threat . Immigration and the perceived need for ‘control of our borders’ loom large in both .
Both are riven with inherent contradiction .
Ends Without Means
Most significantly perhaps , in terms of what lies ahead , in both cases ends have been willed with no real understanding of the means to achieve them e.g.
We will leave the Customs Union and we will have no Hard Border with Ireland
We will require people without papers to produce papers to prove their right to be here
Conservative politicians while expressing themselves appalled and shocked at what has befallen the Windrush Generation seek to turn the conversation to bearing down on illegal immigration, where they believe they have public support . However in so doing they are repeating a ‘category error ‘ .
Windrush Scandal – By Design Not Accident
The Hostile Environment policy affected ‘people without papers ‘ indiscriminately whether or not they had made their lives here ,often having arrived on British Passports . This was designed into the policy at the outset .
In our country 9.5 million people do not have a passport.. The barest scrutiny of data reveals that out of a U.K.population of 66.1 million , 40.3 million have driving licences . The number of people without a Government issued means of proving their identity , and right to be here , is simply huge .
It is transparently obvious that the undebated shift from an assumption of the right to be here to a requirement to provide proof would impact on a whole range of people.
The impact of the Hostile Environment policy was obvious .
However driven by a tendentious and unachievable target (net migration in the tens of thousands ) Mrs May and the Home Office simply took no account of the blindingly obvious .
Hostile Environment Needs an Identity Strategy
Regardless of whether this was done knowing the facts and ignoring them or because of a lack of capability to form coherent policy the effect was callous in the extreme .
This was policy illiteracy . It is self evident that the required concomitant of a Hostile Environment policy is an Identity Strategy . If you are going to require people to produce ‘papers’ you should provide them with ‘papers’ to produce . Instead the Home Office destroyed them – or at least the historic records , a variant on the ‘lost in an office move’ phenomenon .
Master Class on the Absence of Strategy
Mrs . May is renowned for her dogged determination and the tortoise like speed at which she shapes policy and its implementation. However this is punctuated by sudden lurches of policy developed in a small cabal and then launched upon the world at what is regarded as a propitious moment.
The first example was construction of the Cabinet on what the Americans describe as the Pottery Barn rule :’You break it, you bought it’ putting leading Brexiteers into the prominent roles responsible for delivering Brexit. At first glance this was ingenious; there was an element of poetic justice: you got us into this mess, now get us out of it.
Bromides and Bombast
However not one of the three Brexiteers has demonstrated any serious strategic grasp of the issues to be tackled. Instead they have fallen back on their collective stock in trade: bromides and bombast , and invoking a bold new future heavily coloured by the pink maps of empire.
A particular fly in the ointment is that Mr Fox , who previously had to leave the frontbench for an episode of poor judgement, not to say dodgy dealing, has demonstrated a profound lack of capability causing concern within the European Commission .However he never misses an opportunity to berate anyone considering a rational way of making sense of our confused future through a variant of a customs union as betraying the will of the people .In particular , of course they would be denying him the opportunity to negotiate deals which he is almost certainly incapable of delivering.
Foolish Timing of Invoking Article 50
The next example of this was the Conservative party conference following her accession to the leadership at which ‘Brexit means Brexit ‘ was announced. The deadline of invoking article 50 and giving notice by the end of March 2017 that we would leave the European Union was also set. No doubt this was seen within number 10 as a smart move to placate the Brexiteers and steal their thunder .
You will remember how agitated the European Union was in the early days about when we were going to get on with things and give notice. As Sir Ivan Rogers apparently advised at the time we should not have given notice until the pattern of negotiations had been agreed. Political considerations outweighed strategic ones. We played our only card with nothing in return. We have been on the back foot ever since.
If one had thought it would be difficult to make a bad situation worse Mrs May demonstrated with alacrity that she could in the Lancaster House speech where the red lines of leaving the customs union and the single market were painted. We witnessed the disturbing spectacle of a Conservative prime minister setting about denying her country the benefits of the single market in the same venue as her predecessor, Mrs Thatcher, had proclaimed them .Now we have a Conservative Prime Minister dismantling the benefits for the UK of the single market which the UK had driven within Europe.
The absence of a clear strategy in negotiating the U.K.’s departure from the European Union can be seen in the draft Withdrawal Agreement published in March 2018. The Financial Times commented that on almost every substantial point the UK has accepted the EU’s position.
The UK accepted the “backstop” of Northern Ireland staying in the EU’s single market and the customs union. Unless the UK reneges from that position, that backstop will be part of the exit agreement. This means that unless the UK and the EU agree something else, the default will be that Northern Ireland effectively stays in the EU. And how that accords with the rest of the UK is a problem which can only be solved by the rest of UK in effect staying in the EU too. Or by a united Ireland.
At the time the Brexiteers seem to accept this getting behind Mrs May.
However this now seems to be forgotten. The European Union is accused of having weaponised the Irish border issue.
So here we are again. Outrage is being expressed when the source of the outrage is in fact the result of what has already been agreed. Instead in scenes that are reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels the Brexit Committee of Cabinet are falling out with each other on whether to pursue a solution based on magical thinking, or one based on even more magical thinking, and both of which were rejected last summer by the European Commission as impractical.
Policy by Sound Bite Doomed to Fail
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Headline Messages or Sound Bites to drive a programme of change and communicate a message .
However you do need to be able to exemplify what you mean by them and illustrate how they might work in practice.
The endless mantric intonation of the same soundbites favoured by Mrs May will not cut the mustard.
Importantly the messages need to be internally consistent and driving in same direction .
You can’t create policy by cobbling together soundbites with the aim of appealing to every aspect of the focus group in which you have tested them .
Mrs May’s Windrush Scandal and Brexit Shambles
There can seldom been a group of politicians and advisers at top of Government with such a profound lack of capability to think a policy through to its logical conclusion .We have seen the catastrophic consequences for the Windrush Generation and others caught up in the Hostile Environment. We now all face the consequences of Mrs May’s Brexit Shambles which shares the same fatal flaws as the Windrush Scandal .
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