“In some possible branches of the future leaving will be an error” – an exchange about Brexit with Dominic Cummings

Yesterday evening, I had a tweet exchange with Dominic Cummings, the architect of the (official) Leave campaign.

His candour and openness was striking.

Many regard him as a controversial and negative figure.  But there is none of the platitudes and evasions of the politicians of both sides on Brexit.  It is worth, therefore, reading what he has to say.

The tweet exchange was prompted by his tweets from June, linking to a blogpost.  (I happened upon these while researching something.)

If Leave MPs don’t assert themselves to force MANAGEMENT changes on No10/DEXU, Brexit talks = guaranteed debacle as Ive said for a year

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) June 13, 2017

That was last month.  I wondered if he still held this view.

Dominic, may I ask if this is still your view – or has anything happened since 13/6 to change it?

— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) July 3, 2017

He must get a lot of queries and I did not assume he would respond.  But it was a sincere question.

(My own view is that (a) Brexit is complex, (b) the UK government is not equal to the task, and (c) the UK government is somehow making it worse for itself.)

He did respond.

Still. Eg after a yr they still haven’t established a regular mtng for main ministers/officials, all chaotic bilats etc. Farce

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

He then added.

But I also think importance of talks/deal greatly overstated & how we shape domestic institutions by far most important longterm…

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

Ie odds high theyll screw talks & get worse deal for all than shd have done but also won’t matter much to longterm j/ment re good/bad idea

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

What will determine that is whether we can reform Whitehall / science / education / real productivity etc. Brexit nec, obv not sufficient

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

Brexit was necessary, though obviously not sufficient.

This is an interesting view, and I RTd the conversation above as it seemed worthy of wider discussion.

I then asked him about the referendum vote itself.

(Most Brexiteers will defend the Leave vote absolutely; many Remainers will be as equally disdainful.)

Is there anything which could now happen (or not happen) which would make you now wish Leave had not won the referendum result?

— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) July 3, 2017

His reply was swift, and commendably frank.

Lots! I said before REF was dumb idea, other things shdve been tried 1st. In some possible branches of the future leaving will be an error

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

“In some possible branches of the future leaving will be an error.”

In other words: Brexit was not bound to be a success – Brexit could be a mistake.

(Note my question had been about the referendum result, but the second sentence of the replt went to Leave more generally.)

He added:

My view was/is that there are more possible branches of future in which leaving is good for EUR as well as for UK…

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

Leaving increases EUR’s overall ability to adapt more effectively to an uncertain world & increases probability of good branches happening

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

In the meantime, I had RTd the “Lots!” tweet- again as I thought it would be of wider interest.

In which the architect of the Leave vote commendably says the referendum win could turn out to be an error. Refreshing openness. https://t.co/tkkrLxufey

— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) July 3, 2017

He was unimpressed with some of the responses.

What if maximising adaptiveness to improve probability distribution of happier futures is a principle?

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

Given you’re a professor you shd read what was actually said, not what a politician says was said! best wishes DC

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

a/ I’ve said that umpteen times. b/ No, its earmarked for the NHS cheers

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

Brexit TALKS Andrew! The talks/deal are overrated in importance though in SW1. Decisions re our own institutions will decide success/failure

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

I said I thought this response was good.

Reads to me like he sees Brexit as one interdependent step in radically reforming the British state – others necessary but no obvious levers

— (((john))) (@el_snoop) July 3, 2017

He responded.

Yep. But also a feedback loop now at work. Brexit forces change on a system closed to new people/ideas & EUR gains from legal diversity

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

He also made wider this observation about the responses.

ok. Interesting how your better educated MP/hack type followers have little grasp of epistemological uncertainty viz complex decisions…

— odysseanproject (@odysseanproject) July 3, 2017

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Postscript.

I disagree with Dominic Cummings on many things to do with Brexit.

A couple of polite questions had elicited some frank, informative and interesting replies. And this dialogue in turn led to wider discussion.

One may dismiss what he has to say (and what he did at the Leave campaign) but it is important to know what his position actually is, and not what it is alleged to be.

But one respondent (ironically, an academic), however, saw this exercise as me being “part of the problem”.

When you give such respect to toffs, you are part of the problem, not the solution. https://t.co/fG5J1qcnXd

— Rui Carvalho (@rui__carvalho) July 3, 2017

This view is misconceived.

One problem with Brexit has been the partisanship and the heat of the two sides.

The more open and frank we can be the better.

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