Remainer UK civil servants were in tears over Brexit, top official says

Staff in the U.K. Foreign Office were crying and in a state of “mourning” following the Brexit vote, the office’s former chief Simon McDonald has revealed.

During an interview for the BBC’s documentary series “State of Chaos,” McDonald said he saw people “in tears” and in “shock” the morning after the 2016 referendum, and decided to tell his ministers he had voted to remain in the European Union.

“On this solitary occasion I decided to tell my colleagues and therefore let ministers know that I voted to remain in the European Union,” McDonald said.

Under the civil service code, officials are expected to maintain impartiality and not share their own political preferences with ministers. But McDonald, who served as top civil servant of the office from 2015 to 2020, said he felt ministers likely knew his vote anyway, so decided “to embrace it.”

He also wanted to “convey a message to a group of people, most of whom I felt had voted to remain in the EU, that their personal feelings were beside the point.”

Still, McDonald’s confession is bound to anger Brexiteers. McDonald himself said he knew the Foreign Office board was “not entirely comfortable” that he had revealed his vote, and the former deputy Cabinet secretary, Helen MacNamara, told the BBC she doesn’t know “why that would be a good or helpful thing.”

The interview is part of the new episode of “State of Chaos,” a three-part series that follows the tumultuous events in the British government from 2016 to 2022.