Friday 10 November 2023

What the Covid Inquiry tells us about Brexit

The Hallett Inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic still has a long way to go, but the evidence it is taking is already revealing an extraordinary picture of the British government at the time and, in the process, much about Brexit. It is tempting to say that it is not revealing much that many of us did not guess, but, apart from the fact that there’s much in the detail that is fresh, there is an important difference between ‘guessing’ and seeing hard evidence laid out in documents or given by witnesses under oath. And, actually, what is emerging is even more dire than could have been guessed.

What we could guess

Of course, it is not an inquiry into the handling of Brexit but it has long been clear that there were multiple intersections and interactions between that and the handling of Covid. I discussed many of them during the pandemic period, including in what is still the most-read post on the blog, from April 2020, which also gives links to some of the other places they are discussed by me and others. 

Some of those posts contain details which are now irrelevant, but the overall picture that is emerging confirms what is perhaps the central point made in that April 2020 post:

“What both Brexit and coronavirus reveal are some fundamental flaws in the way we are governed and the political discourse around it. The populist explosion of this decade, of which Brexit was a prime example, has bequeathed a way of governing which is impervious to reason, and incapable of engaging with complexity. It isn’t just chance that we have a woefully incompetent Prime Minister, a dud stand in [i.e. Dominic Raab], and a cabinet of mediocrities, propped up by a cadre of special advisors with few skills beyond contrarian posturing.

They are the legacy of Brexit. They were brought into power by Brexit. But all the things which secured the vote for Brexit – the clever-but-dumb messaging, the leadership-by-slogan, the appeal to nostalgic sentiment, the disdain for facts and evidence, the valorisation of anger and divisiveness, the bluff ‘commonsense’ and the ‘bluffers’ book’ knowledge – are without exception precisely the opposite of what is needed for effective governance in general, and crisis management in particular.”  

What ‘the people in the room’ are telling us

I’ve quoted that at length not to say ‘I told you so’ (and, in any case, I was hardly the only person saying similar things at the time), but because it serves as a fair summary of what we have been hearing recently at the Hallett Inquiry. As Andrew Rawnsley, Chief Political Commentator of The Observer, wrote in his column last Sunday, “the testimony from the people in the room” has shown that Johnson was “comprehensively incapable of doing the job”. But, Rawnsley continues, it wasn’t just Johnson who failed, it was the cabinet and senior civil servants, and the blame for that lies in part with Dominic Cummings and his Vote Leave team.

Cummings’ own self-serving and obscenity-strewn testimony to the Inquiry, in both its written and, especially, its oral form, showed his utter contempt for ministers and civil servants, whilst in itself giving a glimpse of the bullying and misogynistic culture which, as confirmed by Helen MacNamara’s evidence, permeated the inner workings of the administration. MacNamara, the most senior female civil servant at the time, makes it clear that this culture was not just morally grotesque, but substantively and substantially impaired the quality of decision-making.

Moreover, although it may appear unconnected, or at least less malign, I think the “unbelievably bullish approach that everything is going to be great”, which MacNamara says characterised the early days of the Covid crisis, is inseparable from the vicious machismo she describes. The blokey boosterism, which is also instantly recognizable as being identical to Johnson’s approach to Brexit as well, is the affable face that quickly contorts to hate-filled thuggishness, at least behind closed doors, when it encounters any challenge. Unsurprisingly, this culture was not just misogynistic but semi-racist, “laughing at the Italians” and in doing so being not just laddishly unpleasant but, again, substantively damaging the Covid response by jeering at what could have been useful lessons.

It must be beyond question that Johnson and Cummings were jointly responsible for this culture and all that came with it, though no doubt others played a part, and they had presumably transferred it over from the Vote Leave campaign operation. More generally, for all their well-attested differences, Johnson and Cummings were conjoined, enablers of each other and enabled by each other. Cummings is quite explicit about this in his evidence, as well as showing a shameless contempt for democracy, declaring that “we” (by which he seems to mean the Vote Leave cabal) had the right to pick and choose who would be Prime Minister, and that “we” installed Johnson despite knowing how unfit for office he was. [1]

Meanwhile, it was, of course, Johnson who appointed Cummings as his Chief Adviser and gave him such latitude of powers, a latitude which amongst other things, led to the resignation of the then Chancellor Sajid Javid, just as the pandemic was starting. And it was Johnson who expended so much political capital to keep him in post after the ‘Barnard Castle’ scandal. They were two cheeks - one flabby and purpled, the other scrawny and pockmarked - of the same backside, and what lay between them, connecting them, defining them, was Brexit.

Brexit, too, explains the uselessness of the Cabinet which, as Rawnsley says, the Inquiry is showing to have “failed to act as a collective decision-making body and a restraint on a dangerously dysfunctional Prime Minister”. How could it have been otherwise given that, as Martin Kettle wrote when Johnson appointed his first Cabinet, it consisted of “mostly second-rate ideologues, many of them with negligible records of ministerial achievement and several of them with very dubious political ethics. All the positions of power are held by Brexit extremists. The rest are political hostages to the hard Brexiters.”  

The undermining of the civil service

As for the role of the civil service, part of what is at stake here was, as MacNamara’s evidence disclosed, changes that Brexit had wrought on the processes and machinery of government. But there is certainly more to it than that. Rawnsley points out that the Hallett Inquiry shows Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, to cut an “abject figure”, but his appointment to that role, in the middle of the Covid crisis, was partly because his predecessor, Sir Mark Sedwill, was seen by Johnson as “too much of a Europhile” (£) whilst Case was described as a “Boris Johnson ally”. It has also been reported that he had originally been brought into Number 10 as Permanent Secretary at Cummings’ behest. [2]

The wasn’t just a matter of a Prime Minster smoothly, if ruthlessly, appointing a more congenial or compliant Cabinet Secretary. On the one hand, Cummings’ written testimony (p.59, para. 276) reveals the utterly chaotic manner in which Sedwill’s ejection began. On the other hand, other evidence to the Inquiry shows that, Johnson ‘ally’ or not, Case, prior to taking over that role, had confided to Sedwill that he had “never seen a bunch of people less well-equipped to run a country”, referring, apparently, to Johnson and his special advisers. [3]

Crucially, this particular episode was itself part of a wider picture in which many senior civil servants had already left, or were leaving or being sidelined, because of a perceived lack of commitment to Brexit. Indeed, in my post of 28 February 2020 – the date is important as it is just as the Covid pandemic was developing, and shortly before the first lockdown – I recorded in detail how the civil service was under attack for supposedly being anti-Brexit, with reports of a ‘hit list’ of senior civil servants the government wanted to expunge. It was not long afterwards, in June, that Cummings made his threat of a “hard rain coming” for the civil service (£). That was, of course, only the latest instalment in a process which had been going on since the referendum, and, in Cummings’ case, stretching back to his days as a special adviser to Michael Gove in the Department for Education, when ‘the Blob’ first emerged as a term of abuse in British politics. The title of my February post is also worth noting – ‘Brexit is going feral’ – given that evidence to Hallett this week shows that, just four months later, ‘feral’ was exactly the term applied to Johnson’s government by Case, and apparently endorsed by Sedwill.

It's vital to recall this vitriolic attack on the civil service from Johnson and Cummings, and Brexiters generally, because it is quite as important as, if not more important than, the related issue, which is getting far more attention, of how Hallett is showing that Brexit was prioritized over tackling Covid. It wasn’t just that Brexit overloaded the bandwidth of the civil service, Brexiters also undermined the civil service as an institution. Even now, Cummings presumably includes the civil service amongst the “insiders” who “refus[ed] to accept the referendum result” who he blames for the lockdown having been necessary at all. For, on Cummings account, it was this alleged “refusal” that meant that Brexit created the “constitutional and political crisis that consumed a vast amount of the focus of the core of the state 2016-2019”.  Unsurprisingly, as Anthony Robinson observes, this account conveniently ignores the role of the Vote Leave campaign in creating this crisis.

Frost (as always) muddies the waters

In a similar way, like Billy Bunter to Cummings’ Flashman, David Frost responded to MacNamara’s evidence that the government focused on Brexit to the exclusion of everything else from July 2019 with the justificatory bleat that “we were in the biggest constitutional crisis for a hundred years”. He also asserted that the claim that ‘no-deal Brexit’ planning got in the way of pandemic planning does not accord with the facts because the Brexit deal was completed in October 2019 (i.e. before Covid), and the Transition Period meant that “there was no economic shock and no new arrangements to prepare for during the height of the Covid crisis”.

As so often with Brexiters’ claims it is complicated to unpick them, and Frost is particularly prone to tendentiousness. The only constitutional crisis between 2016 and 2019, and certainly between July and October 2019, was the unlawful Prorogation of Parliament, for which Johnson and Cummings were entirely responsible. Frost makes it sound as if this crisis was something the government heroically struggled against when, in fact, it was something the government created. It’s true that there had been a rolling political crisis since at least the 2017 election but, stripped of all its great complexity, that was not a constitutional crisis but a simple reflection of there being no parliamentary majority for any particular form of Brexit, just as was the case in the country. [4]

It’s also true that this political crisis still existed until the December 2019 election, and the Inquiry has already heard evidence that the work streams implementing provisions from the 2016 Exercise Cygnus on pandemic planning had been largely halted by no-deal Brexit planning. However, it is not true the completion of the Brexit deal, in the sense of the agreement with the EU of the text of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) in October 2019, ended no-deal planning. Firstly, that WA was not agreed by parliament until after the election. Secondly, even when it had been agreed, it initiated a new phase of no-deal planning – this time concerned with the possibility of there being no future terms, or trade, agreement.

This also means that it is either completely dishonest or totally ignorant for Frost to say that there were “no new arrangements” to prepare for during the Covid crisis of 2020. There were. Whether or not there was to be a trade deal, it would mean completely different trading (and other) arrangements compared with being in the single market, customs union, and other EU entities, once the Transition Period was over. Which of these two outcomes would prevail was not known until Christmas Eve of 2020 and so, throughout the year, there was the prospect of at least major change, and possibly of major disruption, to be prepared for. That was as true for businesses and other organizations affected as it was for the government.

The (non-) extension of the Transition Period

Moreover, Frost fails to mention that, until July 2020, the UK had the possibility of seeking to extend the Transition Period, something which the EU would almost certainly have agreed. Doing so would have helped the UK to deal with Covid, by taking away the urgency of the negotiations and the imminency of the changes that the end of the transition would bring. It would also have helped the UK to deal with Brexit, by deferring completion of the trade deal until the exigencies of the Covid emergency were over. For although the focus of attention arising from the Hallett hearings is how Brexit got in the way of dealing with Covid, it is equally the case that Covid got in the way of dealing with Brexit. For Frost to use the Transition Period as a defence against there having been such mutual impacts whilst ignoring his government’s refusal to extend the period, which would have reduced or contained them, is absurd.

As I wrote in June 2020, the decision on whether to extend the Transition Period wasn’t the last gasp of the battle over whether Brexit would happen, it was the Brexiters’ first challenge to show that they could govern Britain after leaving the EU, rather than just campaign for Britain to leave the EU. It is a challenge they comprehensively failed, because they were (as they still are) locked into the idea of defending Brexit against ‘betrayal’. Never mind that, by that time, Britain had actually left the EU, and that could no longer be prevented: they just ploughed on.

In doing so, they not only pulled time and attention away from dealing with Covid, they also ensured that Covid-battered businesses had no time to prepare for the end of the Transition Period. Even if Brexit were not intrinsically a huge folly, they ensured that it came into effect in the most unpropitious of circumstances, and they did so with absolutely no justification beyond the stiff-necked false pride that the period could not be extended even in the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic.

The Covid government was also the Brexit government

The Hallett Inquiry is beginning to uncover the deep dysfunctions in the way that the government handled the pandemic and, almost as a side-issue, showing some things about Brexit. But the real significance of the Inquiry for Brexit is that the government it is exposing to view is exactly the same government that before, during, and after the pandemic was handling Brexit. So, although it is not an Inquiry into the handling of Brexit, it is surely inconceivable that the way it handled Covid does not also apply to Brexit to some degree.

For, self-evidently, these dysfunctions did not arrive with the pandemic but pre-dated it, at least as far back as Johnson and Cummings coming to power (though, as noted, some features, especially the denigration of the civil service, go back further). It is inconceivable that the factionalism and infighting, the misogyny and the vapid boosterism, were not all occurring in the period when, after Johnson came to office, the Withdrawal Agreement and, especially, the Northern Ireland Protocol, were still being negotiated. It is certainly true, by definition, that the government dealing with the Covid crisis in 2020 was the same as that which was undertaking the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) negotiations during 2020. And, although Cummings departed in November 2020, it was still the Johnson government, with all the flaws Hallett is revealing, which, throughout 2021 and until he resigned in June 2022, was embroiled in the ongoing row with the EU over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

There are already plenty of reports that show how little Johnson understood about the practicalities of Brexit. To take just one example, he reportedly “slumped in his chair” when “the penny dropped”, during a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker in September 2019, that his ideas about the Irish border were totally unworkable. But we now know that this same Johnson, during Covid, seriously suggested being injected with the virus on live TV to show its harmlessness, and seriously asked whether the virus could be destroyed by blowing a “special hairdryer” up the nostrils, actually circulating a You Tube video of someone demonstrating this ‘cure’. Patently someone so dull-witted, or, more accurately, so lazy-minded, as to do these things would be equally incapable of grasping even quite basic things about Brexit, let alone its more complex details.

Similarly, the Inquiry is revealing how during Covid Johnson was flip-flopping daily, or even hourly, on both the overall strategy and the detailed measures for dealing with the pandemic. So it is surely reasonable to assume that he behaved in the same way on detailed issues in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA, and also on the big questions about them, most especially whether to allow there to be one or both versions of no-deal Brexit.

It is also surely reasonable to assume that he flip-flopped in the same way during the long period when it was rumoured that he would, or would not, invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol and, subsequently, whether he would pass and make use of the Northern Ireland Bill to pull out of the Protocol in its entirety. Relatedly, we already knew that during the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations at least one senior Tory thought that “the Irish really should know their place”. So, learning now about how the Johnson administration jeered at the Italian response to the pandemic, it hardly strains credulity to suppose that it was similarly contemptuous of the Irish position on Brexit and the Protocol. 

Whilst Johnson is the most obvious culprit here, the same applies to his entire administration, including his feeble and mediocre Cabinet and his team of arrogant and bumptious Vote Leave Special Advisors, both during and after the Cummings’ period. If, as the Hallett evidence so far suggests, the entirety of this administration suffered from multiple deficiencies in handling Covid, then it is inconceivable that it became super-competent when dealing with Brexit. And whilst it might be said that the pandemic was a wholly unusual and complex problem, the same is true of Brexit. If they differ, it is not in that but in the fact that Covid was a crisis imposed on the UK, as it was on other countries, whereas Brexit was imposed by, indeed created by, the Brexiters, many of whom were by this time running the country. So they were incapable of dealing with either, but with Brexit they had the added culpability of having caused it.

We may never have a Public Inquiry into Brexit, and if we do it will have to encompass different issues and cover a longer period than Hallett. Yet, even without that, Hallett is providing a glimpse of just how rotten the Johnson period of Brexit was – the period, don’t forget that ‘got Brexit done’. If, as Covid data expert Professor Christina Pagel argues, Hallett has already “laid bare the government’s dereliction of duty” we can hardly imagine that the very same government at the very same time was the epitome of care and competence in its handling of Brexit. But the cases are different. We didn’t have this government because of Covid, but because of Brexit. In this sense, Brexit was the ‘original sin’ for which we paid twice-over. Once by having an utterly useless government when Covid hit, twice by having an utterly useless government to deliver Brexit. And that is before even considering the price inherent in Brexit itself. [5]


[1] This is not to say that Johnson could not have become Prime Minister without Brexit (and Cummings). Simon Wren-Lewis’s blog this week has an interesting discussion of this.

[2] Because for the purposes of this post I am splicing together different parts of testimony to Hallett it may be confusing as to what jobs Simon Case was doing at different times. In May 2020 he was appointed as Downing Street Permanent Secretary, a role that had been unfilled since being vacated by Sir Jeremy Heywood in 2012 (it had in any case only been created in 2010), who became Cabinet Secretary until his retirement in 2018, when he was succeeded by Mark Sedwill. Then, in September 2020, Case was appointed Cabinet Secretary, replacing Sedwill.

[3] The Cummings’ evidence referred to in this paragraph is confusing in that it suggests that Sedwill was initially sacked in May 2020, and subsequently refers to Case as having been Cabinet Secretary in July. This doesn’t square with the public record of posts held, but it seems to be that the outcome of the botched sacking was Sedwill’s resignation and that, by July, it had been decided that Case would be his successor even though he wasn’t formally in post. There is much more detail on all this in Beckie Smith’s report in Civil Service World. Another confusing issue is why, if Case was indeed a Johnson ‘ally’ and Cummings had supported his appointment in May 2020, did he speak about them in the disparaging terms quoted here? A possible answer is that it is because that quote comes from July 2020, by which time he had come to witness the chaotic nature of the administration.

[4] Frost, especially, has been vociferous in insisting that this political crisis was also a constitutional crisis, because it enabled, on occasion and most notably with the 'Benn Act' of October 2019, the House of Commons to take control of its business from the Executive. But this was absolutely consistent with the Constitution: Parliament is sovereign, and the Executive only has power to the extent that it commands a parliamentary majority. As regards ‘no-deal Brexit’ in the sense of no WA (the subject of the Benn Act), it did not.

[5] Part of that price is the damage to trade, and another Brexit story this week is the publication of a woeful IEA report denying that damage. Fortunately, Professor Gerhard Schnyder has done an excellent, painstaking job in exposing its numerous and profound flaws. I know from experience that undertaking that kind of detailed debunk is a hard, time-consuming business, because such reports contain nested layers of falsity or misunderstanding. But it really matters, not least because such reports gain so much traction including, in this case, endorsement by Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch.


  1. On 8 February 2020 I wrote to New Scientist about Covid-19. An extract from my letter reads:
    "It is clear to me that island states such as Britain and Ireland should immediately close their borders to incoming travellers. Airports and the Channel Tunnel could be closed within hours. Passengers on cruise ships could simply be held on those ships for the quarantine period - in relative luxury. Some cross-channel ferries - since they would no longer be needed for everyday travel - could be re-deployed as quarantine hostels. It ought to be possible to use Eurostar and ferries to import unaccompanied freight." Sadly New Scientist did not publish my letter.
    Had we closed the UK's borders at the beginning of February I doubt that any lockdowns would have been necessary, as the examples of Australia and New Zealand have since shown. I suspect the cost to the economy would have been far less than the cost of lockdowns. Ironically the "features" of Brexit would have made it very easy to close the borders!
    If this simple solution was obvious to me in that February, it beggars belief that the Government failed to see it. What is wrong with us?

    1. I would take slight issue with you there. Even if the (or any) government of the time had managed to implement all your ideas swiftly and smoothly it wouldn’t necessarily have been wholly effective. My sister lives in Sydney where, despite instant border closures (remember even Australians caught out travelling abroad were not allowed to come home), the virus got in. What followed was a draconian lock down where the police were on the street and drones and helicopters were in the air to make sure that people followed the rules; the state borders were locked and draconian fines imposed on those breaking the rules. What all that did ensure however was minimal illness and mortality in NSW. Would that it could have been done likewise here.

    2. As well as Australia, New Zealand had a complete lockdown from March to May 2020 & thereafter many variations of lockdown well into 2021 and didn't escape Covid either. Given the level of ineptness in #10 you can feel reassured that no one in govt would have read or understood anything in the New Scientist or your letter had it been published.

  2. "They were two cheeks - one flabby and purpled, the other scrawny and pockmarked - of the same backside, and what lay between them, connecting them, defining them, was Brexit." I assume you were too decorous to state the obvious. That, anatomically, between the two cheeks of one's buttocks lies the anus, and it is this anus that metaphorically delivered Brexit. Brilliant, pithy, savage. Keep up the good work.

    1. Well, not so much decorum on my part as that I thought it was more effective if readers were to fill the gap, so to speak, themselves!

    2. Your turn of phrase was so laugh out loud funny that I failed to hold in a mouthful of tea. It really deserves a large poster opposite Westminster for all to enjoy.

  3. [typo] Johnson resigned in June 2022, not 2023.

  4. Replies
    1. Another one at beginning of para 2 - undermining civil service
      "The wasn’t just a matter"

  5. It is hard to pin down how exactly to feel, and think, about the UK these days, being an EU citizen like me.

    But, Brexit was the best thing you ever did for the EU, and I will be eternally grateful for it.

    I could go on, and take cheap potshots at the UK's self-inflicted misfortunes, or I could argue how a back-door coup d'etat in 2016, via a legally shady advisory referendum, actually can be described as a constitutional crisis of the first order, but I won't.

    It's all on you now, the citizens of UK, to either muddle through, what seems to be the default mode, or actually reform your damn country.

    Nations shouldn't do stand-up comedy, and the Benny Hill act is wearing thin.

    1. First thing we have to do is get shot of the despicable government we have at this time. They have painted themselves into a nasty, shrinking, populist corner, and refuse to budge. They need to go into opposition for several decades. Starmer’s Labour can then start the long task of mending fences.

    2. While I agree that a change in government (in the UK) is the first step, I see no fundamental drive in the UK electorate for a root and branch change. Even less so from the future governing party.

      So, you'll muddle through, argue with the Scotch, lament the unionist/loyalist cabal in NI, pontificate why the EU is not giving you free ride to our markets, 'cos now they crazy people are gone -- promise things are not your to promise, and demand things from the EU that are not on offer.

      Some random voices remains you time to time that your system is obsolete, exploitative, undemocratic shit-show, led by utterly ridiculous charlatans.

      But, then your media shows a dude eating a sandwich, and you'll elect Tories again.

      Jesus wept, and I have given up on UK. The best thing that can happen is it breaks up to its constituent parts -- and we take it from there.

      My two cents.

    3. Edit: "..., because now the crazy people are gone -- promise things that are not yours to promise..."

      Apologies for the typos.

  6. "They were two cheeks - one flabby and purpled, the other scrawny and pockmarked - of the same backside, and what lay between them, connecting them, defining them, was Brexit."

    Ouch. Brilliant. Though this image I can no longer unsee...

  7. I'd like to add that the period of covid also demonstrated catastrophic financial mismanagement where the government felt free to fill their own or their allies pockets.

    1. Not sure 'mismanagement' is quite the word - it seems the only area in which the Tory government has displayed any efficiency whatsoever since 2010 is filling their own or allies pockets!

  8. "What both Brexit and coronavirus reveal are some fundamental flaws in the way we are governed and the political discourse around it. The populist explosion of this decade, of which Brexit was a prime example, has bequeathed a way of governing which is impervious to reason, and incapable of engaging with complexity...."

    It does seem Brexit is the mother, father and son of all viruses - whether we talk of a biological version or an electronic one. It allows, nay encourages, bad governance by attracting the very worst kinds of people into positions way above their pay grades.

    At the same time, whilst not everything which become markedly worse since 2016 can be laid directly at the door of Brexit, it has made many non-Brexit issues worse.

    Without Brexit would we have had Johnson, even if we had a Tory govt? Possibly. He fooled and blustered his way into becoming London's mayor prior to Brexit. But would we have had BravOmen (spelling intentional)? Brexit has propelled the very worst into leading government positions due to Brexit fanaticism rather than any hint of actual ability.

  9. The obvious disaster of Brexit (pre, during and post), and the simultaneous governmental management failure of Covid, form part of a broader, historical malaise that is like a cancer eating out the heart of the UK.
    What this blog does well is demonstrate the significant biases that are holding back rational thinking in the UK.
    A short list of obvious biases related to the Brexit condition, seen through the prism of social psychology, could easily include: confirmation bias, conviction bias, appearance bias, group bias, blame bias and superiority bias- all evident in the writing of today's blog and previous editions.
    The extent of the catastrophic decline of the British body politic can't solely be blamed on the politicians, the blame equally (if not more) falls on the voters who enable them and give them power, perpetuating the obviously failing system. This leads to a downwards spiral, evidenced weekly by this excellent blog, but also evidenced in the mainstream media, albeit with the biases (and others) shown above as means of excuse.
    The UK continues to vote for, and therefore enable, a deeply flawed political structure. Investigation is needed to expose the root causes for this self harm within the British population, a subject far too dense for a blog reply here but possible in the realm of, amongst other disciplines, Psychohistory.
    Brexit is a symptom and a manifestation of deeply problematic social dysfunction at the heart of British life, and until some kind of general self reflection and self awareness take place, and importantly is seen to take place, Brexit will continue to mark the UK as a pariah state not worthy of serious consideration beyond short term expediency.
    There is a general failure at all social levels to do anything about Brexit, to identify its cause, or find a realistic direction of travel, or to even have an honest general conversation about the state of the nation.
    On the other hand, there seem to be higher forces at work, using known instruments of social control, that manage, instil and exploit the sense of hyper-normality which is a devious instrument of an increasingly desperate creeping fascism evident in British politics today.

  10. Hear, hear.

    An excellent comment.

  11. It is apparent that Johnson was one of those intellectually lazy (not to call them just plain stupid) Brexiters who couldn't tell you the difference between the customs union and the single market. He couldn't be bothered to do his homework, both regarding covid and regarding Brexit. A walking disaster.

  12. The COVID enquiry is already obviously a stitch-up: let's blame Johnson, Cummings and Brexit; let's say we should have locked down earlier, longer and harder. There's no alternative point of view, no acknowledgment of the success of the Swedish model, no viewpoint that says "the average age of a person who died from COVID was 80, and that if 80 year olds die, it's sad, but it's not worth destroying our economy or social bonds for." Just a viewpoint that people can and should live forever, that governments through more and more intervention can and should make them live forever. If the COVID inquiry found we could all live to 200 by eating lettuce and never leaving our houses, it would recommend that as a way of life.

    1. But that's incoherent, because - surprise, surprise - the Johnson govt wasn't arguing for the approach taken by Sweden. Indeed, I doubt if they/he were even fully briefed as to what it was. They didn't think in technocratic terms, as Chris Grey so ably points out above. You're not seeing the centrality of the dysfunction that lay (lies? ) at the heart of the English Establishment which, divorced from the reality of running an Empire, has become stupid, lazy, debauched & decadent.

  13. Professor Grey - can you suggest whether the British government was ever any better, and if so, when did the decline start?

    In your book "Decoding Organisation" you make it clear that the staffing of Bletchley Park relied heavily on the class system, but there's no suggestion that this led to the sort of corruption we saw with PPE contracts or Test and Trace.

    Professor R V Jones writing in "Most Secret War" confirms the staffing approach to codebreaking and perhaps Scientific Intelligence as a whole. But it becomes noticeable that the younger politicians taking office towards the end of the war - and with responsibility for military intelligence - were perhaps more interested in "empire building" in the sense of feathering their own nests, rather than listening to expert advice. Being much the same age as your correspondent Roger who wrote on 10 November, these were the politicians that I recollect from my teenage years as being the least competent of a rather mixed bunch.

    Perhaps the last act of a competent British government was to join the EU in 1972.

    Did two world wars cause the decline? Or was there something else?

    1. May I suggest at least a partial reason: The English ruling class, and I would include people such as Clement Attlee, Tony Blair, and Keir Starmer along with the whole Tory bunch, are unable to face the reality of modern Britain: At best a second rank European power.
      The nonsense of "Global Britain" is a symptom of this. They are not content with being one of many team players, they need to be the Captain, the Chairman, the Leader. The reality is that for over a century at least, Britain has not, in fact been a leader, except as a worldwide financial investor, and the Americans helped themselves to that prior to Lend-Lease.
      If Britain had stayed out of WW1 it would have been a regional conflict, and probably would have been "over by Christmas".
      WW2 is a classic example of British overreach. Britain had expected France to fight Germany to standstill and therefore be cheaply on the winning side. Instead of that France was defeated in six weeks and Britain's only hope of survival, let alone victory, was that the USA get involved, which they did. Britain survived, at the cost of ruin. The collapse of British working class morale during WW2 and the consequent skiving and criminality is one of the untold stories of WW2.
      I believe that joining the EEC was the best decision ever made during the postwar era. It was Harold MacMillan who correctly analysed Britain's status and concluded that membership of the EEC was the only viable course.
      BREXIT was a triumph of ignorance and xenophobia. It was also a protest vote by an abused population.

  14. “But the real significance of the Inquiry for Brexit is that the government it is exposing to view is exactly the same government that before, during, and after the pandemic was handling Brexit.”

    Shouldn’t this be “But the real significance of the inquiry into Covid-19…”?

  15. No. It's talking about the significance of the Inquiry for Brexit