by Barney Lane, posted on Quora
I think of “deep state” as being about the behind the scenes machinery of government; the inner workings of the civil service and secret negotiations of politicians.
In this piece, I argue that yes, the deep state has played its part, but the main issue is the weakness and susceptibility of our Prime Minister, to manipulation. In short, May has been soft and pliable with the EU, who know her as “Mrs No until she says Yes”, while being infuriatingly stubborn with her own party and country.
To start with, let’s consider what we know. For me, these are the relevant facts:
Leave won the 2016 referendum, Cameron resigned, the Tories appointed Theresa May as leader and Theresa May said she would deliver Brexit
Theresa May lost her majority in the 2017 General Election, meaning she would have to depend on the votes of all her own MPs plus those of the DUP to get legislation through
Theresa May sacked her advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, effectively replacing them with Olly Robbins, a civil servant. Shortly afterwards, she dropped DExEU from having a lead role in the exit negotiations, putting Olly Robbins in charge
Theresa May’s first notable move in the negotiations proper, was to accept without a fight, the EU’s sequencing demands. This was a major surprise. Notes of the meeting showed the EU delegation acting both surprised and delighted. Minutes show EU officials asking for reconfirmation that this was really the UK’s position
In late 2017, Theresa May allowed talk of remaining in the customs union to resurface, doing nothing to clarify the government’s policy, which was to leave the customs union
In December 2017, Theresa May signed a political agreement giving away £39 billion and signed us up to a “backstop” that would commit the UK to remaining under EU control until it had found a way of managing the customs border in Ireland, in a way that satisfied the EU
When the political declaration was converted into legal text, Theresa May said “no British PM could sign this”. This was the only thing of note, that Theresa May said about Brexit in the first half of 2018. She later did sign it
In mid-2018, Theresa May faced a backbench rebellion attempting to force legislation to keep us in the customs union. Theresa May invited the ringleader Dominic Grieve to Downing Street to persuade him to drop his rebellion. It is understood that she made him privy to a plan that was at this stage, not widely known. Dominic Grieve promptly dropped his rebellion
In July 2018, Theresa May held the Chequers summit where she unveiled the Brexit whitepaper. She told her government, the meeting would not end until everyone had agreed to it and if anyone resigned, ministerial transport would not be available for the trip home
The whitepaper horrified some ministers, who believed it amounted to a customs union in all but name. Boris Johnson resigned. David Davis resigned
In his resignation speech, Davis criticised May for sidelining his department, which had been set up to prepare the UK for its departure from the EU, while instead favouring her own civil service adviser Olly Robbins
In replying, Theresa May said Davis’s department had not come up with a workable plan
In an article in the Telegraph, Davis replied that this was deeply disingenuous. His department had a detailed and carefully worked out plan. It was she, the PM who had chosen to ignore it while developing her own alternative plan without telling anyone
Johnson wrote in the Telegraph, that Theresa May had allowed the Ireland border to become prominent in the negotiations because she had unquestioningly accepted the EU’s framing of the issue and had not even tried to find a solution
Come December 2018, the EU published their Withdrawal Agreement (WA). It was very similar to the Chequers whitepaper, except that it lacked the May/Robbins scheme for the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU. The WA’s political declaration sought a future relationship that would build upon “the single customs territory”
Minutes of the meeting where Theresa May signed the WA showed that the EU had said “The customs union will be the basis for the future relationship. The EU will retain all control”. Theresa May had signed a document that she knew the EU interpreted as implying a permanent customs union, and in which the EU would retain full control
The WA was voted down three times by Parliament. Most notably, it was voted down by Brexit-supporting MPs who believed it was “not Brexit” and by the DUP who believed it had sold out their territory
The Brady amendment gave Theresa May a mandate to renegotiate the Ireland backstop, which keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU until the EU approves the UK’s plans for managing the border
May largely ignored this mandate, saying she would not attempt a renegotiation but instead, half-heartedly said she would “seek changes”
On the basis of the above, it is reasonable to conclude that the main reason Brexit (in this incarnation) has failed, is that Theresa May changed course. While her general stance was initially to the liking of Brexit supporting MPs, her final deal, was not.
Having lost her majority in parliament, she inevitably had to work harder to reconcile the interests of her MPs, who had different opinions. However, it is clear from the above that at each node of the decision tree, she leaned towards her remainer MPs. She didn’t tell anyone this was what she was doing or why, she just did it.
Her eventual WA was a death by a thousand cuts, non-Brexit Brexit. But what happened to make her change course? That’s the key question.
By any standard, her behaviour in office has been extraordinary. Consider where the Tories were at the start. Dominic Lawson wrote about this in the Sunday Times, this morning in Brexit on a plate — and the Tories blew it. 
Only two years ago the Tories were united under the firm but fair leadership of the headmistressy Theresa May, Farage had been rendered irrelevant and Labour was still riven by the shock of a referendum outcome that pitted it against the very people (the industrial working class) it was formed to represent.
Thus, in February 2017, this column was headlined “Cheer Up, Mr Cameron, you won your party the greatest prize imaginable”. The former PM was being ridiculed almost daily, and yet, I argued, while the referendum result had trashed his reputation as a political winner, he was actually the accidental author of a miraculous transformation in his party’s fortunes: “Unintentionally, Cameron has achieved for the Conservatives something a string of earlier leaders signally failed to do. He has made them the party that is united over the vexed question of the UK’s relationship with the European Union and — a completely unexpected bonus — turned Labour into a house divided on this issue.”
That aged well, didn’t it? In fact the second half of that analysis still holds true and explains Labour’s continuing inability to come up with a Brexit policy that could be communicated coherently (or at all) on an election leaflet. But that column was written at the moment of the party’s greatest discomfiture, the week after parliament passed the bill to invoke article 50 — giving us just two years (ha!) to negotiate our departure from the EU. Corbyn’s three-line whip ordering his MPs to back the government’s policy led to resignations from the shadow cabinet and thousands of party members quitting in protest.
The reason Theresa May’s behaviour has been so extraordinary is that she did not need to lean towards Remain in her implementation of Brexit. The Tories were united around a clean Brexit. That was the referendum result. That was what the manifesto said. It could not have been clearer. Even those who did not agree with the result of the referendum, accepted both it and the government’s interpretation of it.
When murmurings about a “softening” of Brexit started to emerge, May could have acted to silence them, reminding her MPs of their manifesto commitments, but she did not. From a parliamentary arithmetic point of view, it was far easier for her to lean towards her Brexiteer contingent than her Remain contingent. Leaning towards her Brexiteers would not have angered her Remainers as much as leaning towards her Remainers have angered her Brexiteers. All she needed to do was to maintain existing party policy, to which all her MPs had explicitly agreed by standing for election upon its manifesto.
What happened? Theresa May is well known as someone who can be “captured” by her advisers. Who were her advisers? Before the 2017 election, her advisers were Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill — both clean Brexit advocates. After the election, her advisers were Olly Robbins and — as far as one can tell — the EU. In the past 2 years, May has spent many hours in the offices of her fellow European leaders.
Now, there’s an element of deep state at work here. An anonymous civil servant wrote an article in the Telegraph titled “Believe me, the Civil Service is trying to sink Brexit. I have seen it from the inside” He or she writes:
A quick scroll though the social media accounts of my colleagues and you will find images of them proudly waving ‘Remain’ placards, campaigning for a ‘People’s Vote’, boasting ‘Jez we can’ and of course the usual apocalyptic messages of doom since the Brexit vote. The double-standards are astonishing. If I so much as followed the activities of Nigel Farage, I have no doubt that I would be called in for questioning. I re-call one conversation with a senior member of staff at the Foreign Office who told me she was ashamed when Boris Johnson was appointed Foreign Secretary as he is so “typically British”.
This department is particularly notorious for its anti-Brexit bias. My experience tells me that there is a genuine hatred of those who voted for Brexit. I recall my first day in the Civil Service as a graduate, being invited to a meeting of senior members of staff who spent the good part of two hours in agreement that the public made a “stupid” decision in the EU referendum.
Unfortunately, this bias doesn’t end with snide insults and childish quips. It goes to the root of their day-to-day work and has truly negative impacts on the way we conduct the important tasks ahead of us. I have in fact come across senior staff working on our post-Brexit relationships who openly talk down the prospect of a UK-US FTA and encourage anti-Trump hysteria. Many of them even joined the protests against the President’s visit last year. During his visit it was common to hear jokes about Trump’s assassination from the very people meant to be working with our closest ally. The only thing worse than being pro-Brexit in the Civil Service is being pro-Trump.
But it doesn’t stop there. There is a strong presence of Anglophobia, combined with cultural Marxism that runs through the civil service. It has meant that many Civil Servants, including myself, have been actively discouraged from co-operating with Think Tanks which are seen as being “too right wing” despite sharing our goal of promoting free trade. This attitude also prevails in our work with our closest allies, particularly in the Commonwealth, where we are afraid to be seen as overly keen to work with countries that are run by “rich white men”.
Contrary to popular belief, Civil Servants often shape the views of Ministers. This makes the prevalent leftist culture within the Civil Service all the more concerning. These ardent remainer and left wing civil servants are the ones who provide the briefings, select the invites and choose the priorities for Ministers. How did we get to this point? The Civil Service is one of the biggest graduate employers, whilst universities have allowed a leftist culture of political correctness to flourish in recent decades.
Brexit is the greatest opportunity this country has faced in years, yet our Government machine is currently working from within to frustrate it. This must not go on. In the next phase of the Brexit negotiations it is vital our civil service ceases to allow the massive remain voting bias that has so far helped scupper our post-Brexit future.
Add to that the misuse of Treasury resources for giving misleading information about the economic consequences of Brexit — resources that were refused to other departments requesting them for no-deal preparations — and it’s clear there’s an element of deep state at work. However, it is the weakness and stubbornness of our Prime Minister, that is the most important part of the explanation.
It’s like a disease. If you’re unhealthy and have a weakened immune system, you are more susceptible to diseases. For most healthy people, flu can be an unpleasant few days in bed. For weakened people, it can be a killer.
That the civil service has worked to frustrate Brexit is both credible and predictable. However, it is the Prime Minister’s susceptibility to it, that has led to the failure of her attempt to deliver Brexit.
 Brexit on a plate — and the Tories blew it
 Believe me, the Civil Service is trying to sink Brexit. I have seen it from the inside