• The government faces an “impossible challenge” in trying to prepare for various Brexit outcomes, according to a damning new report from MPs.
• Defra and the Department for International Trade are both under “extreme pressure” as they try and prepare for future outside the EU without knowing what kind of deal the UK will strike with the EU, MPs said.
• “Both departments have an impossible challenge and don’t have a clear plan of top priorities,” the report said.
LONDON – Key government departments are seriously underprepared for the “impossible challenge” of preparing for Brexit, according to a damning report from MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned on Friday that Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) are seeing their preparations “hampered by the pervasive uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.”
That, said the committee, has left not only departments but also businesses in the dark about exactly what they need to do to prepare.
The PAC is a cross-party group of MPs which scrutinises the government and civil servants over their delivery of public services. MPs on the committee warned that Defra, in particular, was struggling to work up options for three potential Brexit scenarios: deal, no deal, or transition. They said Defra also faces the challenge of navigating new legislation and major IT programmes in a very short time.
Both the UK and EU hope to have made progress in Brexit negotiations by the European Council summit in June, but Prime Minister Theresa May faces huge obstacles within her own government before she can proceed.
She was forced to back down on Wednesday over her plans for a “customs partnership” with the EU after Brexit, meaning her plans to avoid a hard border between north and south Ireland have been thrown into serious disarray.
Chair of the PAC, Meg Hillier MP, said all departments preparing for Brexit were under “extreme pressure.”
“Our committee has repeatedly raised concerns about Government’s preparedness for life outside the EU,” she said.
“The clock is ticking and there is still no clarity about what Brexit will mean in practice.”
“Against this backdrop, Government departments must deliver fit-for-purpose systems and ways of working, in tandem with managing what in some cases is already a complex and ambitious programme of work.
“As our new report again makes clear, departments are under extreme pressure. If Parliament is to hold them to account then it is vital that Government is as transparent as possible on the progress being made.”
Some key takeaways from the report include:
- Due to the continuing uncertainty over the future relationship with the EU, departments are unable to provide business and other stakeholders with the information they need to help them prepare for Brexit;
- The Treasury has still not informed departments of the level of funding approved for their Brexit programmes in 2018 to 2019;
- The DIT, fronted by arch-Brexiteer Liam Fox, does not yet have “the right mix of skills and experience in its workforce to deliver effective trade deals.”
Concern over the DIT’s lack of preparation is growing among EU negotiators, too. An exclusive BI report last week revealed that the European Commission is “deeply concerned” about the lack of preparation Fox has made towards carrying over Britain’s existing free trade deals after Brexit.
The Commission has told the EU’s other institutions it is “deeply concerned about the UK’s incompetent handling of trade deal rollovers,” and Fox’s “failure to grasp basic concepts and trade-offs,” a source who received the internal EU briefing told Business Insider.
The report said both Defra and the DIT “have an impossible challenge and don’t have a clear plan of top priorities.”
“They must be clear about what they will not be delivering as a result of Brexit,” it said.
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