Whitehall mandarins need to face up to Brexit – Bernard Jenkin

Posted On: 
7th January 2017

Britain’s civil service are “playing to the stereotype” of an entitled establishment and need to get on with the job of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU, a senior Conservative backbench MP has said.

Bernard Jenkin has criticised Whitehall for not getting on board with Brexit.
PA images

Bernard Jenkin said upset across Whitehall caused by the resignation of Britain’s ambassador to the EU risked undermining an impartial civil service.

Sir Ivan Rogers’s parting shot at ministers’ “muddled thinking” on Brexit has worsened tensions between Whitehall and ministers, particularly at No 10.

However, in an article in the Financial Times, prominent Leave campaigner Mr Jenkin said senior officials were  “making the case against an impartial civil service”.Mr Jenkin added: “The mandarins are playing into the stereotype that there is a collective establishment view on great issues, such as Brexit, which they feel entitled, even duty bound, to defend.”

Those civil servants who couldn’t recover from the “shock” of the Brexit vote were honour-bound to quit, he added. “Many will adapt with alacrity but others will take time to accept it is happening,” Mr Jenkin said.

“There will be many who are in grief at being required to abandon what they regard as fundamental beliefs and who cannot grasp how to embrace the opposite of what UK governments have tried to achieve in Europe for four decades.

“For civil servants who cannot or will not adapt, the only honourable option is to resign.”

Mr Jenkin’s comments come amid growing tensions between Number 10 and Whitehall.

Theresa May has been openly critical of some senior civil servants. They, in turn, complain they are being ignored and frozen out by ministers.

Lord Butler of Brockwell, the former cabinet secretary, is appealing for a truce in a letter to The Times published today.

“If there was ever a time when the country needs ministers, their political advisers and their civil servants to work together in trust and mutual support it is now,” he said.

The retired civil servant said Whitehall staff should be fired for “clear evidence of disloyalty” but not for “giving inconvenient advice” to ministers.

He spoke of his fond memories of working closely with ministers and urged the Prime Minister to “give priority” to maintaining unity.

He said the “us vs them” attitude brewing between Whitehall and ministers “would be disastrous for Britain”.