It's quite a time to be working on EU policy in Government. When I first applied for the European Fast Stream almost two years ago now, and even when I started it last year, things looked very different. You could say that the results of the EU Referendum have been a good example of the way civil servants need to be able to respond to quite big changes in government priorities.
When I first started in September 2015, I didn't start on EU work straight away -- first, I did a posting to get me up to speed on how Government works generally, so that I could rely on that knowledge once it came to dealing with EU institutions. I was placed at the National Offender Management Service (I got used to calling it NOMS eventually), working on reducing re-offending policy. Specifically, I was in charge of trying to make sure anybody leaving prison who needed a bank account had access to one, a view into a world that I knew nothing about. The job had huge variety: I visited six different prisons across the country in six months, talking to prisoners and officers about the problems you face as soon as you're released, but I also wrote speeches on rehabilitation for the Minister, went to major banks' HQs to negotiate with them, and even got some language practice in organising a visit to HMP Manchester for a group of French civil servants interested in prison reform.
After six months, I moved to the Department for Transport to work on EU Rail Policy. I joined at a time when EU negotiations on a major new piece of rail legislation, the 'Fourth Railway Package', were at their final, crucial stage. That meant travelling to Brussels to sit round a giant table and defend the UK position, sending a lot of urgent advice to Foreign Office colleagues who handled some of the finer points of EU influencing, and frequent communication with other countries - from hushed chats "in the margins" of a working group to telephone calls between ministers. All this was in an area that I had no knowledge about whatsoever before I started, so there was an element of learning on the job! After the EU Referendum vote, my role changed quite a lot: because of the knowledge I'd gained doing the negotiations, I started being asked to provide advice to my Department in preparation for the UK leaving the EU. It's been a fascinating insight into a complicated process.
The European Fast Stream is a fairly small group in comparison to some of the others, with lots of people sharing interests, so we all know each other well and meet fairly often, even -- whisper it -- socially. I joined with high expectations and the scheme exceeded them.
I'm heading to the Treasury next for more EU work, which is an appetising prospect - whatever you might say about it, it's certainly not a dull time to be involved.