After countless articles charting the erratic course of Brexit, and the comments of scores of columnists, I read something earlier this week that shed new light on the subject—at least for me. The title of the article was “The Deep State Would Never Have Allowed a No-Deal Brexit”. That term, Deep State, came into common usage in the 1990s and refers to the power structures beneath the visible and accountable government.
I recommend that everyone should set aside an hour or two at their earliest convenience to do some research on the Deep State. I can guarantee deep insights and lots of laughs from some of most clever comedy writing and acting ever! Watch “Yes Minister”; the first episode can be found at
Since it came out nearly 40 years ago, it has often been referred to as more of a documentary than comedy.
That headline got me thinking about the likes of Sir Humphry and Sir Arnold. They are the senior civil servants who provide continuity while governments and ministers come and go. They are drawn from the educated elite and naturally think of themselves as most qualified to shape policy and to apply governmental power.
Senior civil servants are drawn from the best universities where they have usually distinguished themselves with first-class degrees. Most of them would have always known they are the cream of the crop, attending the best schools and on to Oxford or Cambridge. However, when it comes to temperament, the civil service does not attract risk-takers. They are equipped and chosen to provide stability and predictable order. Creative, entrepreneurial types do not apply for the civil service.
This arrangement works well, if slowly and with red tape, under normal circumstances. The voters demand change, MPs attempt to implement change and the civil servants act in a slow and orderly way—usually doing what the government has decided.
The vote to leave Europe was a terrible blow for the civil service because it created a massive additional work load and guaranteed a measure of chaos for some years and that’s anathema to Sir Humphrey and Sir Arnold. However, if the Government and Parliament were working well, they could have required the Deep State to cooperate and implement the referendum result. But Parliament, and the Government, have been divided, to a degree that is without precedent in modern times. In fact the majority of both the Government and Parliament voted to remain in the EU and yet they were supposed to implement a massive change that they did not want.
Without clear direction from the elected representatives, the unelected Deep State opposed change. But, that is their job—at least to some extent. I don’t blame the civil servants for acting according to their temperament. I also remember that many, probably most, of them have been told all their lives that they know best and are certainly better placed than ordinary voters to know what is good for the nation.
But that is not how democracy works, although sadly, that’s how it has worked this time.
On the bright side, though, I still have confidence that we will disengage in great measure from the European Super-State. When the messy process is over, we will look back on it and judge that it was worth all the hassle to regain a measure of national sovereignty and greater freedom to fulfil our national calling in the global community. When the dust has settled, we will be able to work out warm relationships with the other European nations and, I believe, put new life into the Commonwealth.
It is also likely that Brexit will embolden other European nations to put a brake on the relentless process of centralizing more and more power into the EU machinery. A German leader wrote to me earlier this week, “We are proud of you Britain, since you dare to challenge the European structure.”
Above all this, “The King’s heart is like a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He guides it where ever He pleases.” We are not anxious!