POLITICS

Theresa May Has 'No Idea' How Much Time And Money Is Being Thrown At Brexit

'The civil service is left in the lurch, as ill-equipped as the Prime Minister is clueless.'

13/08/2017 00:01 BST

The Government has “no idea” how many civil servants and how much cash are being exclusively devoted to Brexit.

Fifteen of the UK Government’s 20 departments don’t know or were not prepared to say how many staff are working on Britain’s exit from the EU, according to parliamentary questions (PQs) submitted by Plaid Cymru.

Theresa May’s Cabinet Office even conceded in one response it was “not possible to give an accurate figure” for the time and money being thrown at the process.

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Theresa May out on the campaign trail in Wales

It comes as fears mount public resources will be utterly consumed by the enormous task of withdrawing from the bloc over the next two years. 

Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru’s Brexit spokesman, said the Government was not ready for the legislative and administrative tasks that lie ahead.

The Arfon MP said: “It is astonishing that government departments, who are tasked with implementing one of the biggest and most challenging changes to the UK constitution, seem to have no idea how many people are actually working on this.”

The Department for Education, Ministry of Defence, Attorney General’s Office, Northern Ireland Office and the Department for Women and Equalities make up the five departments which disclosed the number of staff which had Brexit responsibilities. 

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Brexit Secretary David Davis makes a statement in the House of Commons, London, flanked by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox

The Attorney General’s Office had 41.5 full-time-equivalent staff providing legal services to the Department for Exiting the European Union. 

They were followed by the Northern Ireland Office with seven members of staff, the Ministry of Defence with five and the Department for Education with four.

The PQs revealed that just three government departments knew how much money had been allocated to work relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Williams added: “The Prime Minister has made no secret her detestation of the European Convention for Human Rights. Withdrawing from this crucial piece of legislation, which protects us all, but especially those most marginalised, may now be entrusted to the mere ten members of staff in the Department for Women and Equalities.

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Environment Secretary Michael Gove says 80% of his department's work is linked to Brexit 

“It is particularly shocking that despite Defra confirming that over 80% of its work is Brexit related, it does not know how much it is spending.

“And if all of its staff are now doing Brexit work, either the department has hired additional staff to carry out the other work, the cost of which they should know, or more disturbingly, it is simply not being done.

“Government departments must be accountable. Yet at this most constitutionally turbulent time for the UK, at best they refuse to disclose important information, and at worst they don’t seem to have a clue.

“The May Government is in turmoil, without a plan for leaving the EU. And the civil service is left in the lurch, as ill-equipped as the Prime Minister is clueless.”

Memos unearthed in June revealed that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the UK’s civil service, planned to relocate at least 750 policy experts from across Whitehall to five key Government departments.

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Plaid Cymru's Brexit spokesman Hywel Williams

They were to be sent to the Department for Exiting the EU, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office.

It was unclear, however, if Heywood would be offered any additional cash to replenish staff resources.

A response from the Cabinet Office to Williams’ PQs said: “Exit is an all-of-government operation.”

It went on: “Staff in my department continue to work closely with officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union. Indeed, a large contingent of Cabinet Office staff formed the basis of the new Department’s workforce when it was created last year.

“Members of staff across the Department also provide advice and analysis on EU Exit issues as required. But given the interactions between EU exit work and the Department’s other priorities, it would not be possible to give an accurate figure.”