2007 - 2022

From Davos to D-Day

Watching Nick Park’s $50 million cartoon Early Man, you realise that the depth of England’s Brexit-related crisis is deeper and graver than you suspected. Here the creator of the brilliant Curse of the Were Rabbit, Shawn the Sheep and The Wrong Trousers has gone Full Farage. Nasty effete foreigners are lampooned and plucky red-shirted underdogs overcome the odds to defy the moneyed but corrupt bureaucrats to win the day. Its a dire film but it’s also an insight into the post-Brexit mindset, all mired in self-doubt, false grievance and cringeworthy myth-making.

Now we have the rumour mill grinding-out finely milled whispers that the strong and Stable One may be for the chop. Editorials are spinning, ministers are leaking and Big Beasts are giving the equivalent of the Shoogley Peg endorsements. There’s talk of the ‘window closing on her leadership’.

Why now?

The esteemed Laura Kuenssberg explains:

“With EU guidelines out tomorrow, Brexit transition talks getting under way, v restive backbenches, and PM out of the country this week, it has the makings of a very, very bumpy few days.”

It’s astonishing that she’s lasted this long. After her disastrous election, her appalling handling of the Brexit negotiation and of course the worst speech in history, the only thing that has kept her in No 10 has been the existential dread brought on by the thought of a Corbyn government, and the absolutely dire alternatives baying for her blood uselessly around her.

The hope for an olive branch to be extended from Trumpland in the form of a favourable trade deal looks less and less likely. The only thing being extended was a tiny groping hand to be placed on her posterior. Rather than being her saviour – the Special Relationship may be a key player in her downfall.

Of course this week marked the first anniversary of the day when the Great Murdo Fraser tweeted (on the subject of the PM’s visit to America):  “Whisper it, but this Theresa May visit to the US is turning into something of a triumph”.

If the great horny halfwit on the other side of the pond offers no answers for our beleaguered premier, neither does the German Chancellor, as Robert Peston recounts in some detail.

According to Peston at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Angela Merkel naughtily poked fun at Theresa May, in a secret briefing for journalists. 

Here’s what transpired, according to those who were there:

“Merkel said that when she asks Mrs May what she wants the shape of the UK’s relationship with the EU to be, Mrs May says “make me an offer”.  To which Mrs Merkel says, “but you’re leaving – we don’t have to make you an offer. Come on what do you want? To which Mrs May replies “make me an offer”. And so, according to Mrs Merkel, the two find themselves trapped in a recurring loop of “what do you want?” and “make me an offer”.  At its telling, the hacks laughed uproariously – though I am not sure this is so funny for the UK. Merkel and May’s comedy skit reflects a deep and uncomfortable truth for the government and country – which is that Theresa May and her cabinet haven’t yet decided what our future trading relationship with the EU should look like, because (to state the bloomin’ obvious) ministers are at loggerheads over this. But good news! The negotiations that matter start in earnest this week: not between the UK and Brussels, or even the UK and Germany, but between the erstwhile Remainers Hammond, Rudd and Clark on the one hand and the arch Brexiteers Gove and Johnson on the other.”

Like a rookie bluffing with an empty hand she now has Grant Shapps, Heidi Allen (“Good God we need to get a grip and lead. We are letting this country down”) and others leading from the front.

It’s a sign of how desperate the Conservatives are that “controversial Defence Secretary” Gavin Williamson – who no-one had heard of till only a few short weeks ago – is being talked about as a likely future frontrunner for Tory leader.

Meanwhile, in a statement about as subtle as Nick Park’s red-shirted Stone Age football team allusion – backbencher Nadine Dorries, an ally of Boris Johnson, said she could say “almost categorically” he was not behind briefings about Williamson.

The Guardian reports that: “Under Conservative party rules, a vote of no confidence would be held if 15% of MPs – 48 under current parliamentary arithmetic – write to the chair of the backbench 1922 committee, Graham Brady. One report in the Sun last week suggested as many as 40 may already have done so.”

As the Brexit omnishambles unfolds the only thing keeping May in post is the collective incompetence of her enemies. Theresa May is an opportunist but she is now caught between the hard-right of her Brexiteer zealots and the more rational wing who are exasperated by the heaving mass of humiliation that is her premiership.

A No 10 Spokesman today attempted a reassuring tone saying: “PM Will Set Out Vision For Future Relationship With EU In Due Course” – to which Marina Hyde replied: “Mate, we passed Due Course three towns ago”.

The impression of time passing her by is palpable and it will take more than a dodgy linesman and a late goal to save the day.

If 2017 was a Close Shave, 2018 may be the year May is Flushed Away.





Comments (7)

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  1. david says:

    Time to post this again. I decided to post it every six months. This is #3. Nothing has changed, except we seem to be going to add a couple of years to the “must finish by” date. It won’t help.

    December 2016

    Project Brexit

    I have spent much of the last forty years in the world of major project management. Largely in the oil and gas industry out of Aberdeen, but in other parts of the world as well and in other industries where projects get very big, such as nuclear power, defence and the largest of civil engineering jobs. My specific discipline – the software techniques used to understand and control these projects – is common across all of these industries, as are many, indeed most, of the theoretical frameworks we use to describe and manage these largest of jobs. I am flattered to be described as a “subject matter expert” by my clients in the oil and gas industry, however even SMEs have been quiet of late in the oil industry, and so I turned my attention to the largest project ever undertaken in Britain, Brexit.

    The important distinguishing feature of a project is that it stops. This is not manufacturing or running a shop. We make something, deliver it, and the job is over. Brexit is a project. But if we examine it that way without any consideration as to whether it is “right” or “wrong” to do, it is doomed to failure.

    In order for a project to be successful, there are some important ingredients. Brexit lacks all of them, except a “Project Must Finish By” date, the only information that we have. In March of 2019 the project finishes.

    Let me painfully go through just some of the missing ingredients:

    A scope of work. Famously, there isn’t one. It is as if a shipbuilding company had accepted a contract to deliver a ship in March 2019, but nobody knows what sort of ship. All we know is the launch date. This in itself makes the project to build the Holyrood parliament seem well founded in comparison.

    Budget. There isn’t one. This project will go ahead no matter what it costs.

    Contract Management. We have started this job without knowing what the terms and conditions are. Any of them. I cannot think of an analogy that expresses my horror at this strongly enough, other than to repeat it. We have started this job without knowing what the terms and conditions are. We are going to negotiate the T&Cs as we go along. How many times has that worked?

    Benefit analysis. If you believe £350m a week for the NHS, you will believe anything I suppose, but in fairness there was a benefit analysis available this June from the proponents of the project. I do not think I am being too partisan if I suggest it has not stood up to scrutiny. In essence – there isn’t one.

    Deliverables. All projects of this size have a list of deliverables, rather than a single event. The channel tunnel for example had operational parameters of availability, running costs, number of passengers, there will have been more I am sure. There are no quantified deliverables for Brexit. “less immigration” “more manufacturing jobs” are aspirations, not numbers. This inflates dramatically the impact of my next heading:

    Expectations. When we spend this much money on a project, there are expectations which have to be met. If, for example, our shipyard successfully builds two new ferries, but the service to users on the routes they are deployed on does not improve, then it is likely that the expectations of the users of the project will not be met and the project may not be deemed a success. What do people expect from this project? Everyone has been allowed to invent their own expectations. Madness must ensue. For some it is control of immigration, for some it is leaving the single market, for some “taking back control” whatever that means. One could argue that with no scope of work, no budget, no benefit study and no deliverables, expectation management is impossible. I do argue that. And that means we have no way to measure:

    Success. There is no way to measure this. The project must then fail.

    I could carry on for a few thousand words more about what is wrong/missing with this project. Can I see the risk register? I thought not.

    I am often called in to project control environments to help improve them. I certainly have plenty experience of projects that could have gone better. The simple truth I have observed is that success or failure is determined at or before the start, not the end of a project. Project success is a function of how ready we are to start the project. In more that forty years I have never seen a project less ready to start.

    At the risk of tautology, this is technically the worst project I have ever experienced, and I’ve been parachuted into some lulus. It is hardly started and we are at the Supreme Court already.

    All of the above just spells failure. Indeed I suspect Brexit cannot be done at all.

    All I can think of to make it better, is comfort eating.

    1. Crubag says:

      Interesting, but an imperfect analogy. In fact, I’m not sure any business management analogies can be applied well to constitutional change. It’s probably easier simply to look at parallels, such as Norway leaving Swedish governance, or Czechoslovakia dissolving, to understand the natural trajectories.

      It’s a reset, and once done you will have two (or more) political organisms growing in their own way. Something you don’t have with companies where top-down control (and a shorter lifespan) is the norm.

      More interesting for indy2 are the lessons of what it takes to win a referendum, and what structures and evidence are needed, and what aren’t.

    2. Richard MacKinnon says:

      Dont worry. Thanks for reminding us of your concerns (again). Go back to your graphs. The ship is not sinking.

      1. scrandoonyeah says:

        because it has already sunk

        1. Richard MacKinnon says:

          Your problem is your just a bad looser scrandoonyeah. The ship hasnt sunk. You just cannot accept that when we got our chance we were too feart to vote for independence but when the English got their chance, they took it.
          I dont think Berexit will be the cataclysm that Mike Small and the rest of the Bella doom mongers predict. The truth is nobody knows how this is going to pan out.

    3. Alasdair Macdonald says:


      Reading your post, I get a sense of deja vu!

      Thanks for posting this again.

  2. w.b.robertson says:

    On the subject of “project management” I agree with the framework spelled out by David. However, how many of us would have embarked so enthusiastically on joining the EU club back in the 70s…if we had known how difficult it would be to get out of it!

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