Thursday, 12 January 2017

Keep Feeling Fascination

Who would have thought that the Great Repeal Bill could be so endlessly fascinating?  My last post was about the Great Repeal Bill and the high likelihood that we will end up with clumsy and hastily written law clogging up the court system for years to come.  After posting I started thinking about what it would be like to be a lawyer working on the Great Repeal Bill.  Yes, folks, this is the kind of fantastical and imaginative inner life that has been forced on me by nature and nurture. Anyway, what would it be like beavering away on the biggest legislative revolution since Magna Carta?  Would it be like working on a software project with a) crazy but immutable deadlines; b) shifting and ever-growing requirements; c) ran by timid managers scared of making a concrete decision that might end up being proved wrong over time?  If you've ever worked in software you'll know that describes all software projects.  Does it also describe all legal projects?  I can't say for sure but the Great Repeal Bill will likely be exactly like that.  This post is going to explain the whys and wherefores.  Before we go any further, I need to admit that the Great Repeal Bill isn't fascinating at all but pretending it is presents the perfect opportunity for a pop video with semi-appropriate song title and surprisingly apt lyrics. Take it away, Mr Philip Oakey.

The aim of the Great Repeal Bill is to bring all EU Regulations into British domestic law.  In the first instance nothing will actually be repealed but over time the UK Government will be able to cut, replace and modify as it sees fit.  Now, there's not much point in just creating a direct copy of EU Regulations because it would leave the UK not only beholden to European institutions such as the European Railways Agency but also to the European Court of Justice.  To "take back control" the UK Government also needs to mirror the institutions and courts of the EU by creating and staffing their own.  This entire system needs to be up and running by April 1, 2019.  Straight away we can tick off the crazy but immutable deadline.

The Entoure Checklist of Nightmare Project Classification.  1/3 = not plain sailing.
What about those shifting and ever-growing requirements?  The Great Repeal Bill will need to account for all of the UK's external legal relationships on the day that it exits the EU. If you're a lawyer tasked with drafting the Bill then you need to write it in a way that accounts for all combinations of possible legal accountability.  So far we've assumed that the UK will withdraw from all EU institutions and courts and set up their own copies. However, we don't actually know that this is the case.  Remember all that talk about a transitional deal?  That, for example, might involve the UK being temporarily accountable to the EFTA court for at least a sub-set of legal domains.  As it stands we don't even know if the UK will withdraw from all EU institutions.  A decision might be made to remain in the European Railway Agency in order to smooth the operation of the Channel Tunnel.  Alternatively, a separate UK/EU institution might be created to oversee the transport of hazardous chemicals. The combinations of jurisdiction and accountability are starting to add up pretty fast into a horrible matrix of confusion.  Drafts of the Great Repeal Bill will need to account for all possible outcomes of the EU divorce talks.  It will also need to respond instantly to whatever leaks out of the twists and turns of the Article 50 talks.  I'd say that we can now tick off shifting and ever-growing requirements.

The Entoure Checklist of Nightmare Project Classification. 2/3 = Nail-biting stress.
This legal project is turning into a bit of a nightmare, isn't it?  It already sounds as bad as the worst software projects I've encountered over the last 20 years.  Can we top it off with indecisive management?  Hey, of course we can.  The UK Government has had six months to clarify its legal objectives on leaving the EU.  To date nothing has come out except a muddle of meaningless slogans and mounting evidence that they don't understand even the simplest consequences of the available choices. If that isn't indecisive and timid, I don't know what is. Let's tick off that final box and declare this project an official nightmare.

The Entoure Checklist of Nightmare Project Classification. 3/3 =  Resign your post immediately.
I've never been more glad that I'm a programming drone in the software industry. I put myself in the shoes of a government lawyer for just 10 minutes and I'm starting to feel my stress levels rise. Honestly, the projects I've worked on are child's play in comparison.  Think of the poor lawyers, those poor, lost lawyers.

Over and out,


PS Did Philip Oakey have the Great Repeal Bill in mind when he was singing?  Take a gander at the lyrics. How very apt!

If it seems a little time is needed.
Decisions to be made.
The good advice of friends unheeded.
The best of plans mislaid.
Just looking for a new direction
In an old familiar way.
The forming of a new connection,
To study or to play.
And so the conversation turned
Until the sun went down.
And many fantasies were learned
On that day.

PPS I once worked on a video game that had Keep Feeling Fascination on the soundtrack.  For most of the development it was the only entry in the game's music library, meaning that I heard this song many times a day for a period of more than 6 months.  Still not sick of it.


  1. You might be interested in this piece.
    I think they have not budgeted for the replacement institutions and agencies but just the costs of barriers and tariffs and they reckon “The Brexit vote means Britain will be spending about £30 billion a year in order to save £8.5 billion a year.”

    I wonder what the complete total will be.

    1. That's a really informative link. I didn't know, for example, that our EU contributions were less than our spending on foreign aid. I'd be amazed if the margin of error in estimated treasury income is less than our EU budget contribution.

      In the first years after leaving the EU there will be significant costs setting up all the necessary technical agencies. I can only wildly guess at the total because I don't know how many people would be required to staff all those agencies and what the extra costs would be. Leaving the EU is definitely not about directly saving money, unless we remain in EEA and Customs Union.

  2. Where are all these spare legal people going to come from? Probably not here.

    How much will they have to pay them? I have a few lawyer friends; they aren't poor. So I'm assuming that if these lawyers are any good they'll be in working in a legal company making big bucks?

    It seems to me that lawyers who take on this kind of Civil Service role will be ones who can't get a job in a practice. A bit like the kind of doctors who work for Atos, telling people that they are fit for work, when they could be working in a hospital curing people.

    1. That's a good question. Can the government contract parts of this out? I have no idea. I believe there are limits on pay for government contracts and I would guess that constitutional legal advice in a crisis would exceed that. Are there even lawyers experienced with drafting government legislation working in the private sector? I just don't know. I should really start searching legal recruitment sites to see if there is an attempt to hire for this. I bet they're not planning for this, though.

      On reflection, contracting it out might not work because it requires a knowledge of government departments. This will cut across departments and budgets and will require people who understand how Whitehall ticks. We're doomed.

  3. By the way, as someone who worked in IT for two and a half decades I can tell you that there is one thing worse than a timid and indecisive management and that is an overly gung-ho management level above the timid (in this case politicians). They want you to bash on with the coding before the basic definition and planning has been completed.

    I think this is what we are seeing with Brexit.

    And the ones I pity are the civil servants who work for the lawyers. They are doing long hours of (unpaid) overtime on stuff that they just know will be junked.


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