Will Brexit Survive the Bureaucracy?

Brexit is not about personalities but issues. It has spokesmen, not celebrity impresarios. It is primarily about what Dan Hannan  has called "the repatriation of sovereignty" from the EU to Britain.

But the Left-liberal establishment, in the UK even more than in the U.S., knows that the specter of Donald Trump is a reliable boogey man: drag him into any polite conversation and you can be certain of an instant visceral reaction against whatever movement he supposedly resembles.

In this sense, Donald Trump is a red herring, a bit of negative rhetorical filigree that people like Joe Klein deploy to smear the pro-Brexit campaign.

I am not sure how effective that strategy is, but it is fast becoming clear that the smug redoubts of the Remainers are determined to do everything they can to frustrate the will of the British people.

Viewers (and readers) of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn's Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister will fondly recall the machinations of Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) to make sure that the will of the Civil Service triumphs over whatever initiatives his boss, the hapless Jim Hacker, proposes. Considered as satire, it is extremely funny, partly because its portrayal of  bureaucratic sclerosis, back-peddling, and mulish obstruction of anything that would challenge conventional wisdom seemed so true to life.

But satire remains funny only so long as there is a healthy distance between reality and the thing satirized. Sir Humphrey is funny and not horrifying because there is a prominent element of exaggeration in his antics. The satire is pointed because it is so true to life. It is funny because life is not, in the end, quite so bad.

Or is it?  The votes over Brexit had hardly been counted before various strategies to ignore or overturn the vote were put forth. Some die-hard Remainers circulated a petition to demand a second referendum. If the people didn't vote the right way the first time, make them vote again. It's a strategy the the EU has employed with success. When the benighted populace voted against the EU Constitution, the mandarins in Brussels simply rewrote it in more unintelligible terms and, presto, the Lisbon Treaty was born.  One Labour politician recommended that Parliament simply ignore the referendum. Various pundits proposed complicated legal or parliamentary schemes to circumvent the vote.

But so far probably the most effective strategy to block the implementation of Brexit has been the Appleby-like imposition of bureaucratic obfuscation. Fortunately, prominent Leave partisans like Douglas Carswell, William Cash, Dan Hannan, and David Campbell Bannerman are onto the scheme and are responding vigorously.  "I fear the civil service has become an agency of the EU," said Bannerman, a conservative, eurosceptic MEP. "Many officials regard their jobs as enabling the EU in the UK, rather than representing the UK in Europe."

Douglas Carswell, UKIP MP for Clacton, echoed the charge: "Project Fear is giving way to Project Backsliding," he said. "The establishment is doing everything it can to dilute what Leave means. . . . We can't possibly entrust this process to the same civil servants that have been tangled up in this mess for the last 40 years."

William Cash, a eurosceptic MP who chairs a parliamentary committee monitoring the Brexit negotiations, was more upbeat. He acknowledged that "a lot of people want to obstruct the democratic will of the British people," but concluded that "the civil servants are duty-bound to carry out the will of Government."

"We are assuming that leave means leave," Cash said, "and expect whatever arrangements are made to be based on repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. Once repealed, that will carry away every treaty and every piece of European legislation that has ever been passed."

I hope he is right. Sir Humphrey was unavailable for comment.