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15.11.16

Leaked Brexit memo: ‘No common strategy’ and not enough civil servants

A leaked Cabinet Office memo has found that Whitehall is struggling to cope with the amount of work generated by the EU referendum vote, claiming that there is ‘no common strategy’ among departments.

The note, leaked to the Times and said to be dated 7 November, found that departments may need to hire an extra 30,000 civil servants in order to deal with the more than 500 projects related to leaving the EU, claiming a split between cabinet ministers.

The note also expressed concerns that the prime minister Theresa May’s tendency to ‘draw in decisions and settle matters herself’ is unsustainable and threatened the likelihood of major industry leaders to ‘point a gun to the government’s head’ throughout Brexit negotiations. It is believed that the note was written by an outside consultant at Deloitte and is unseen by ministers.

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary who sits on the government’s Brexit cabinet committee, dismissed the report, saying: “The process is complex but by no means the challenge that is set out in [the Times]. I have a team of people in my department who are working with David Davis on issues like aviation, but I do not see the scale of the challenge that is in [the Times].”

Grayling also insisted that he had not seen anything to suggest that the government were planning to hire extra civil servants, saying: “We have got people in my department [and] in other departments working with the Brexit department. I don’t know what 30,000 extra people would do.”

A government spokesman denied the existence of an official memo, stating that the government did not recognise the claims made in the report.

May has promised to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017 but has declined to reveal further details. However, she has stated that the UK will be looking to maintain access to the single market while obtaining a bespoke deal to allow greater immigration controls.

Commenting on the reports that the government needs to hire more civil servants, Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), said: “It is obvious to everyone that too many Civil Service jobs have been cut, with around 100,000 going since 2010, and the chancellor must begin to reverse this in the autumn statement.

“We wrote to government departments and the head of the Civil Service after the referendum to ask for early talks on the impact Brexit would have, but we have still not had a satisfactory answer. It's a disgrace that political rows within the cabinet appear to be frustrating this process.”

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, also criticised the findings of the leaked report, saying that it showed a “shambles at the heart of government” over the direction of Brexit.

“It’s time for the prime minister to stop being led astray by her warring cabinet,” Farron concluded. “Otherwise her government is heading for … a reckless, destructive Brexit that will do untold damage to British jobs and the economy.”

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