The Speccie has a story about the estimable Dr Fox saying what we all know, which is that the Foreign Office has its own agenda, particularly on Europe.
But though that position might be popular with many Tories, Fox’s words offended Sir Paul Lever, the former British ambassador to Germany and Assistant Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, who told Coffee House Dr Fox was deliberately shifting the focus of debate to make political points:
‘Civil servants, whether you like it or not, work for ministers. Those in the Foreign Office worked as enthusiastically for Mrs Thatcher when she was waving her handbag as they did for other Prime Ministers of Foreign Secretaries who had completely different views. For former ministers to rubbish civil servants because they are afraid of criticising their party friends is a cop out.
‘If you don’t like the country’s policy on the EU, criticise the ministers who are making it. The idea that they are all just prisoners of their civil servants and they just do what the department tells them to do is bollocks, that’s not how government works and he knows its not how government works.’
Sorry, Sir Paul. I simply don't believe you. The mandarins work for themselves, not ministers. They might work with ministers from time to time, but the Sir Humphreys of this world are, we can be sure, exactly as the great Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn portrayed them.
Ministers come and go with great frequency, whilst the great panjandrums of Whitehall stick around for ever, and almost never get fired for incompetence, even when the witnesses for the prosecution are lined up around the block.
That they are clever and talented, I have no doubt. If they were working in Britain's best interests, I'm sure they could outfox their counterparts in Brussels and Berlin and Paris. But the evidence is that they have sold us down the river, even during times of handbag-waving by that independent-minded heroine, the Lady Thatcher. We are up to our ochsters in Euromanure, and it is time to struggle free. The 'advice' of civil servants will be to see how things develop, not to frighten the horses, not to do anything rash, wait until we suffocate, etc etc etc.
Trouble is, Cameron and Hague appear to agree with them.