The Whitehouse Consultancy

By Chris Rogers, Associate Director, Public Relations

You could well ask why, five months after the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU, ‘Brexit’ continues to dominate the British media. After all, we know when the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is planning to trigger Article 50. We know there’s a two-year negotiating period after that. We know that, barring a successful legal appeal, Mrs May will have to seek parliamentary approval – albeit probably in the briefest of legislation – to trigger Article 50.

Ultimately, of course, the reason for continued British obsession with Brexit is the uncertainty, not least over what the Government is seeking to agree in negotiations with Members States. Cue all manner of conjecture and, not unreasonably, the expression of various special interests.

The business voice has been amongst the loudest. Yes, the issue of the Single Market dominates, but business leaders have also been calling for a smooth and potentially lengthy transition period to adjust to what will be the new reality. And, with comments made to the Confederation of British Industry, the Prime Minister indicated she could be willing to pursue that approach. Which is just as well. Because some form of transitional arrangement may, based on other reports in the media, be what Britain needs to fully negotiate a departure from the EU.

The Prime Minister may wish to pursue – or at least consider pursing – a ‘transitional Brexit’ ostensibly to mollify domestic business concerns. But there can be little doubt that a transitional arrangement (the details of which also remain tantalisingly vague) would also suit the needs of the British premier, and of Whitehall.

Expert after expert in the UK has lined up to claim that the civil service is ill-prepared for the Brexit process. Government departments are understood to be undertaking more than 500 projects to pave the way for formal negotiations. Which by UK standards in an awful lot. Legal experts have suggested departments lack the necessary expertise for what will be complex negotiations. And former senior civil servants have suggested Whitehall is physically under-resourced for the scale of the task. One estimate suggested the Government might needs as many as 30,000 extra officials.

That number sounds incredibly and probably far too high. But it shouldn’t distract from the scale of the task facing the British civil service. So, when Theresa May says she’s considering a transitional Brexit, it probably isn’t just because it’s in the interests of British business.

Manfred Webber has said a transitional Brexit might be “fiendishly difficult” to achieve. But it might still be the British Prime Minister’s best option.

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