There’s ignorance; and then there’s wilful ignorance

The Telegraph today reports that “Chris Grayling has no credible plan for ‘no-deal’ Brexit, road hauliers warn”.

In a series of tweets commenting on this, the article’s author James Rothwell (the Telegraph‘s Brexit & Europe correspondent) brings some more detail:

I understand that senior members of Britain’s road haulage industry came out of a recent meeting with Grayling where they were astonished by his lack of grasp of the key detail on Brexit

One of them, Kevin Hopper, who runs a major firm up in Yorkshire, said that he tried to explain to Grayling that if there is no Brexit deal then UK haulage drivers won’t be able to drive in EU as their papers will be invalid

Grayling, he says, “looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.”

Kevin says Grayling appeared to have never heard of this document but he insisted that “everything would be fine”

There’s more: go and read the whole thread if you want the full gruesomeness.

(And this is coming, remember, from the most Brexit/Europe-informed correspondent at a committedly pro-Brexit newspaper.)

So what’s going on here?

The problem with this government — rather, one of the problems — is that ministers don’t know anything about the areas they are supposedly responsible for. In itself that’s unsurprising: how can you learn about anything in any depth during 12-24 months or so as minister?

But competent ministers have always outsourced domain-specific knowledge, leaning on the expertise of civil servants, industry leaders, academics, etc. Grayling not only is ignorant, but seems to actively want to remain ignorant, so he ignores or even opposes all informed advice.

And in this he is not alone: for example, Sir Mark Ivan Rogers, the civil servant’s Permanent Representative of the UK to the EU — the person in the country who knew most about the UK/EU relationship — was so comprehensively ignored and undermined by May and other that he was forced to resign rather than appear complicit in a Brexit strategy that he knew would fail.

In the past, when we’ve had ignorant people in government, they have at least had the basic intelligence to surround themselves with expertise. And that’s OK: ministers are there to make policy, but based on facts; and civil servants and others are there to provide the facts that those policies can be based on. Now, though, Grayling and his like proudly build on their ignorance by rejecting information. They are wilfully ignorant. No wonder there are no real post-Brexit plans.

In this respect, the present UK government is a hideous echo of Trump on the other side of the Atlantic: not just ignorant, but totally uninterested in remedying that deficit. The combination of arrogance with lack of understanding is a fatal one.

If only they could find a little bit of humility: to learn from, and be influenced by, acknowledged and respected experts in their fields. But the brutal fact is that Michael Gove summed it all up, with admirable concision with his soundbite: “The people of this country have had enough of experts.”

I was horrified enough by “had enough of experts” when it started to dawn on me that it really was true of ordinary voters. Now that I realise it’s also true of actual government ministers, I just don’t see a way forward for this country. They are children with guns.


[Note: adapted from a series of tweets.]


2 responses to “There’s ignorance; and then there’s wilful ignorance

  1. Maybe the Tories and Trump will meet and embrace. Like when perfect love takes form. And the Americans will offer you a wealth of trade deals and take you up in their arms.

    You can keep your flag, your bangers and mash, the baked beans and the biscuits, but their corporations will eventually run your markets, and by extension your economy and country. You will just be another market for the expansion of American capitalism. And you will be fine.

    Who knows.

  2. Failing Grayling is potentially the most incompetent ever: I know there’s a lot of competition for such an accolade, but he does truly have that anti-Midas touch. Absolutely everything that he has been involved with has devolved into utter chaos, and what can one say about a man so staggeringly incompetent that even Gove stepping in to sort out the mess he created (in that particular instance while in charge of the Ministry of Jusice) seemed like a breath of fresh air?

    Yet another one whose sole area of competence is pointless spitefulness. And also looking like Lurch from the Addams Family.

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