SIR Mark has pipped Sir Oliver to the post, or rather to our Wall of Shame. More on the second of these meritless knights tomorrow.
Today this particular ignominy goes to Sir Mark Sedwill, the most senior civil servant and a man who has unprecedented power as Cabinet Secretary, Head of the Civil Service and National Security Adviser, the first to hold all three positions at once. Formerly the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, he has Mrs May to thank for this unique elevation. Someone should have intervened.
The ‘Prime Minister’s first and only choice’ to replace her former Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, who as a result was not subjected to the normal recruitment process, is a man whose sovereign allegiance appears to be more to the EU than to the British constitution. Psychological profiling might have revealed a disposition prone to panic and therefore unfit for great responsibilities of State.
If his highly dramatic ‘doomsday’ letter to ministers (should we be so lucky as to leave the EU on April 12), leaked ahead of yesterday’s Number Ten’s five-hour Cabinet lockdown, is not to be put down to panic, there is only one other interpretation of this intervention: that he is shamelessly political.
Putting on the frighteners, he wrote that leaving the EU without a deal would hamper the police and security services, lead to the return of direct rule in Northern Ireland, put food prices up by 10 per cent, cause currency depreciation and mass company collapse. His purpose seems transparent – to ramp up sufficient consternation and trepidation amongst the already cowardly, locked down, Cabinet to knock the No-Deal option right off the table.
Were his doomsday prognostication to be true, it prompts the question of what he and his lax civil service have been doing to prepare against this for the last three years? Nothing? This would be a major lapse of duty in itself. The jury, however, is out on this. According to the civil service blog, ‘civil servants have worked on around 300 separate work streams, contacted 145,000 businesses, advising them of “no deal” customs procedures, and have published 106 Technical Notices and over 100 pages of guidance on border processes and procedures in the event of “no deal”. They have also brought forward essential legislation to take account of different scenarios, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act itself.’ However other checks show ‘unlawful’ unreadiness regarding 350 of the estimated 600 Statutory Instruments required to prepare the statue book for exit day yet to be laid before Parliament.
On the broader Sedwill threats, former Brexit Secretary David Davis has little time. He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme they were ‘nonsense’, reminding Justin Webb that the letter from 200 Conservative MPs backing the No-Deal option was organised by the one man who should know – Chris Heaton-Harris, the DExEU minister responsible for organising the preparation for No Deal.
Davis riposted that we’d have food shortages only if we stopped food coming over the border (is Sir Mark planning that next, I wonder?) and for good measure, where did the 10 per cent on food prices come from? ‘The idea that we do not have a formidable level of security’ or that we are not ‘the biggest intelligence and policing power in Europe . . .’ he continued, clearly exasperated, ‘the idea that they are going to stop dealing with us is sort of ridiculous.’ His conclusion: ‘This is a complete Whitehall scare story, I’m afraid.’
Only weeks ago the media reported that Sir Mark had escalated secret Whitehall plans known as Project After to cut taxes and tariffs in the event of No Deal, which suggested, according to David Davis then, that there was at last a real appetite by the civil service and their political masters to grasp the huge opportunities afforded by a clean Brexit. So which is it? And can we ever trust Sir Mark to tell us the truth?
James Blitz of the pro-EU and anti-No Deal Financial Times thinks he may just be covering his back. He writes that Sir Mark ‘will want to put on record where both he and the senior civil service stand on the no-deal question. Many mandarins fear that the Brexit saga will one day be the focus of a major public inquiry. Sir Mark’s letter means that he is placing his formal advice on no deal in the government files’.
If that is case he could be condemning himself – not that the biased FT could even begin to see it that way.
The question that is hardest to answer, Blitz continues, is what Mrs May herself thinks of it. ‘The PM has blown hot and cold over a no-deal Brexit. Two weeks ago she made an ill-judged address to the nation and looked as though she was prepared to take the UK down the no-deal road. Now it’s not so clear . . .’
Blitz goes on that it is hard to believe that Sir Mark would have written the letter without Mrs May’s go-ahead and that would mean, surprise surprise, that she ‘might be sympathetic to its contents’.
The Sedwill letter looks to be the last stage of May’s and the EU’s pincer strategy to force MPs and Ministers into submission – even into a deal with a Corbyn led Labour Party.
This is the man from whom the government, business and the public are to meant to take advice should Mrs May, despite her best No Deal efforts, find that the No Deal default on April 12 overtakes her.
Why would anyone believe him? Why would anyone not suspect he was still working against Britain and for the EU?
For in Sir Mark Sedwill, any last vestige of that once highly regarded quality of Britain’s civil service, neutrality, disappeared.