The Institute for Government, a research group, says Brexit planning appears “chaotic and dysfunctional” and warns that Whitehall is overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead.
The independent body spent last month talking to departments across the British civil service, in an effort to find out how it is coping with the challenge of delivering Britain’s departure from the European Union.
In a new blog published on its website, the Institute for Government said it has a number of concerns regarding how the government is preparing for Brexit talks, some of which were raised in a memo that was leaked earlier this week.
The memo, allegedly published on November 7, said deep divisions within Theresa May’s cabinet meant the government had no “common” Brexit strategy, just five months before Article 50 is due to be triggered.
Joe Owen, the blog’s author, opens by saying: “…while we may not recognise the numbers in this memo, we recognise some of the claims.” These are the areas where the IfG feels the Brexit memo was accurate (paraphrased by BI).
- Whitehall needs more resources:The civil service possesses the technical skills to deliver Brexit but years of cuts and downsizing means it doesn’t have the capacity to do so on top of everything else it has to do. The sheer workload of Brexit presents an “existential threat” to some departments.
- Government isn’t planning ahead:The Brexit ministries are already doing lots of preparation but the planning horizon is “days or weeks” in crucial departments, not months. Those in leading Brexit departments in Whitehall no little more than the public about what government intends to do.
- Brexit planning seems “chaotic and dysfunctional”:Brexit continues to cause massive uncertainty for businesses and departments. The Nissan deal was a breakthrough but the lack of transparency over what was agreed and how means the government’s approach isn’t filling those on the outside with any confidence.
- Silence isn’t helping Theresa May: May has repeatedly said she will not provide a “running commentary” on Brexit talks but this isn’t strengthening her position. Politically, it is making MPs restless and, economically, it is “eroding confidence” in business and investors.
When asked about the new report by SNP MP Angus Robertson in today’s PMQs, May refused to be drawn on its findings and reaffirmed her position that the government does have a plan but will not be disclosing it.
The memo and the Institute for Government’s report come in the same week that numerous European officials have criticised Boris Johnson for claims he has made about the EU and what Britain will be able to secure in Brexit talks.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Holland’s finance minister, told the BBC’s that Johnson was making “intellectually impossible, political unavailable” claims about the European Single Market, while the EU Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt suggested the foreign secretary wasn’t familiar with the EU’s constitution.
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