Foreign Office Secrets


‘You just said that they were keeping something from me – how do you know if you DON’T KNOW??’
Bernard was beginning to look desperate. ‘I don’t know specifically what, Prime Minister, but I do know that the Foreign Office always keep everything from everybody. It’s normal practice.’
‘So who would know?’ I asked.
Bernard thought for a moment. Then he gave me the full benefit of his education and training. ‘May I just clarify the question? You’re asking who would know what it is that I don’t know and you don’t know but the Foreign Office know that they know that they are keeping from you so that you don’t know but they do know, and all we know there is something we don’t know and we want to know but we don’t know what because we don’t know.’ I just stared at him in silence. ‘Is that it?’ he asked.
I took a deep breath. It was that, or grabbing him by the lapels and shaking him senseless. ‘May I clarify the question?’ I asked. ‘Who knows Foreign Office secrets, apart from the Foreign Office?’
‘Ah, that’s easy,’ said Bernard, ‘only the Kremlin.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1986. The Complete Yes Prime Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1989) p. 173-174

The Grand Design


‘Humphrey’s enthusiasm for Trident knows no bounds. ‘But don’t you see Prime Minister – with Trident we could obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe.’

I don’t want to obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe. I told him so. He nodded impatiently. He knew that. He thought I was missing the point. ‘It has to be an effective deterrent, Prime Minister.’

‘But it’s a bluff,’ I told him, ‘I probably wouldn’t use it.’
‘They don’t know that you probably wouldn’t use it,’ he argued.
‘They probably do,’ I said.
He was forced to agree. ‘Yes… they probably know that you probably wouldn’t. But they can’t certainly know.

He’s right about that. But they don’t have the certainty to know. ‘They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn’t,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘but even though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn’t, they don’t certainly know that although you probably wouldn’t, there is no probability that you certainly would.’

Bernard was taking careful minutes. It’s lucky he does shorthand and was able to reconstruct this conversation for me in writing by the end of the day.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1986. The Complete Yes Prime Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1989) p. 79-80