“There is one important subject I do not want to pass over, the mistake which princes can only with difficulty avoid making if they are not extremely prudent or do not choose their ministers well.”
The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli
I find it hard to believe that the Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service did not provide Boris Johnson as Prime Minister with detailed briefings of the likely consequences of the various versions of Brexit on UK society, the UK’s economy as well as its foreign and defence policy.
We know of the existence of Operation Yellowhammer:
… and of assessments like …
… and this chap was the face of the Leave Campaign, run by a fellow called Dominic Cummings.
Boris Johnson is a heavyweight politician of many decades standing …
… the Member of Parliament for Henley between 7th June 2001 and 4th June 2008; a two term Mayor of London from 3rd May 2008 to 9th May 2016; and (chortle) the Secretary of State for Foreign (and Commonwealth) Affairs between 13th July 2016 and 9th July 2018.
And then there was all this advice and opinion from so many credible sources …
… so where did it all go (wrong)?
“Boris Johnson’s aides have been ordered to send him shorter memos, limiting papers to just two sides of A4. Civil servants have also been told to cut the number of documents put into the prime minister’s red box to “make sure that he reads them”.
The edict emerged after Johnson spent a week away at his Chevening country house. Members of the Downing Street policy unit were told to provide “weekend reading” for the prime minister on keys aspects of policy. But a source said: “They’ve been told it should be an easy read: no more than four pages, or he’s never going to read it. Two pages is preferable.” “
“Boris Johnson’s aides have been told to keep memos to the Prime Minister short to ‘make sure he reads them’, it has been reported.
Officials have been told the cut the number of papers given to Mr Johnson for “weekend reading” and keep any memos that do make it into his red box to two sides of A4, according to the Sunday Times.
As floods devastated parts of the country following a series of storms, Mr Johnson has spent much of the last week at Chevening, a country house usually used by the Foreign Secretary.
He has not been seen in public since Valentine’s Day, when he held his first meeting with new cabinet ministers.
The Sunday Times reported senior aide Dominic Cummings had placed a hard cap on briefing documents added to Mr Johnson’s red ministerial box.
A source told the paper: “Box submissions have to be brief if he is going to read it. If they’re overly long or overly complex, Dom sends them back with savage comments.”
The reports are reminiscent of tales which emerged in the early days of the Trump administration about officials having difficulty getting the US President to read critical documents.
Officials were said to keep briefings to a single page, and to include as many pictures, graphs and maps as possible, so as to keep President Trump’s notoriously short attention span focused.
It’s said National Security officials would also include the President’s name in the text of any paragraph that required his particular attention, because he liked to read about himself.”
“The Downing Street policy unit was said to have been asked to provide the PM with ‘weekend reading’ but was told any documents had to be an ‘easy read’.
Meanwhile, the PM’s top aide Dominic Cummings is apparently blocking documents due to be placed in the premier’s ministerial red box if he deems them to be too long or complex.
The claims, reported by the Sunday Times, sparked a backlash as Whitehall sources suggested those running the government were operating as if they had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
“The Number 10 policy unit was apparently asked to provide the premier with memos on different policies so that Mr Johnson can be fully across proposals.
But a source said the instructions were clear that the documents must be kept as brief as possible.
They said: ‘They’ve been told it should be an easy read: no more than four pages, or he’s never going to read it. Two pages is preferable.’
The PM’s red box is filled every day with crucial documents and briefings for him to read.
But Mr Cummings is said to have taken a strict approach to what is allowed to go into the briefcase.
An official said: ‘Box submissions have to be brief if he is going to read it.
‘If they’re overly long or overly complex, Dom sends them back with savage comments.’
A Whitehall source told the Sunday Times it was ‘government by ADHD’.
It came as David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, criticised the government for reportedly coming up with a ‘hit list’ of senior civil servants it wants to replace as he also hit out at Mr Cummings.
Mr Davis said current issues in the civil service would not be resolved with a ‘firing squad’.
Mr Cummings previously described the former Cabinet minister as ‘thick as mince’ and accused him of being as ‘lazy as a toad’.
Mr Davis today hit back, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Mr Cummings was not likely to be in a position of power for very long.”
” ‘I mean, Cummings doesn’t like me, I know that, that’s self-evident, but frankly he’s a special adviser – here today, gone tomorrow,’ he said.”
Was Dominic Cummings when lightening the load of Boris Johnson’s Red Boxes, removing any briefing papers on the consequences of a Hard Brexit or did Johnson receive some, but either not peruse them or of those he did read, not understand them?
And where was Lord David “Sovereignty at all costs” Frost whilst all this was not being boxed up or being provided and not read or being supplied and not understood?
Or did Boris Johnson understand the consequences all along?