What happens after the reshuffle dust has settled?

It is only three weeks after the EU referendum, but more has happened politically than we might see in three normal years.

How do we get our message across once the reshuffle dust has settled, asks Warwick Smith
How do we get our message across once the reshuffle dust has settled, asks Warwick Smith
The Prime Minister has gone; the Leader of the Opposition is hanging on; Boris Johnson has died politically and been resurrected as Foreign Secretary; at least two new government departments have been created, headed by Secretaries of State whose top-flight careers apparently ended some time ago; two have merged; two-thirds of the Cameron Cabinet have moved or gone; and more change is under way. 

It’s catnip for the political anoraks like me, but what does it mean practically? 

How do organisations deal with such a massive change of ministerial personnel, new machinery of government, and all in the face of a decision to leave the European Union, surely enough of a challenge on its own?

How do you get your message across when new ministers are in place, their inter-relationships are unclear, and last week’s chaos of planning for leaving the EU has been replaced by uncertainty and temporary indolence?

The traditional answer would be "talk to officials", the civil servants who believe in control and the department’s policy, irrespective of the views of the temporary political resource they’re given from time to time that we call ministers. 

But civil service numbers are being reduced, in some departments by up to 30 per cent; and some officials who remain are already disaffected. 

New departments will need to be staffed with the brightest and the best, taken from others. Two have to come together. 

So there will be a huge turnover of potentially disillusioned and overworked staff, themselves struggling to come to terms with the new responsibilities, challenges and even policies that they will inherit. 

And, in Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – the new Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Leaving the EU and International Trade respectively – we have three independent-minded 'leave' campaigners who will need to work together to create a new political and trading environment for the UK post-exit. 

Their responsibilities for the UK’s place in a different and difficult world, the terms of our leaving and future relationship with the EU, and our trading relationships with the rest of the world, all have to come together. 

And, of course, those fashioning these new political and trading relationships will have to recognise that they cannot do so alone: there will be people on the opposite side of the negotiating table who have their own views, priorities and instructions. 

The spider’s web of dialogue and debate will be continuous and three-dimensional. 

British organisations will need to influence both sides of the table if they can, by engaging with the UK Government across all relevant departments and at different levels, and the EU institutions and any member states in which they are active. 

And, in doing this, it’s important to focus not just on the negotiating position that each side will take, but also to have a weather eye on the UK Government’s future policies if agreement is not reached. 

Warwick Smith is global head of public policy at Instinctif Partners

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