Ministers are clueless as to how much it would cost the UK public purse to replace the EU’s regulatory functions if the country crashes out of Europe without a deal, it has emerged.
The staff, investment and buildings needed for the UK to maintain standards in vital areas like food safety, air travel and cross-border disease outbreaks have not been calculated, according to Parliamentary Questions by Labour MP Mary Creagh.
If Brexit Secretary David Davis and his team of negotiators fail to strike a deal with Brussels, the UK would immediately leave major EU agencies such as the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Creagh has called the Government “woefully unprepared for Brexit” after not one department - including the Department of Health, the Department for Transport and DEFRA - gave her a clear answer on what bill the UK would be left with to replace EU agencies’ work.
The Department for Health said: “We are not in a position to speculate on the cost to the public purse and the number of staff required to replicate the relevant functions the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.”
The Department for Transport, led by arch Brexiteer Chris Grayling, said it is “considering carefully all the potential implications” of leaving the European Aviation Agency, but was unable to provide an assessment of the cost of establishing a separate body.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, led by Michael Gove, said it hasn’t yet decided if the UK should remain in the European Environment Agency or not, but that: “In taking any decisions on replicating relevant functions, the Government will always look to minimise disruption and cost.”
Creagh, a leading supporter of the pro-single market campaign Open Britain, said: “The mealy-mouthed answers provided by various departments to my questions are a clear attempt to obscure the truth: the Government is woefully unprepared for Brexit and the wide-ranging impacts it will have on everything from air travel to medicines to food safety.
“They make a mockery of ministers’ claims that Britain would be perfectly ok if we were to leave with no deal.
“If the Government wrenches our country out of the EU without an agreement, we will end participation with key EU agencies without any clear structures to replace them. This would be a disaster for our country, our economy and our people.
“The Government must negotiate a deal that will keep Britain in vital pan-European agencies, and drop their absurd threat to leave with no deal.”
The UK is a member of 39 EU agencies. The European Aviation Safety Agency, to take one example, has a budget of €140 million and employs more than 800 staff. The European Medicines Agency, meanwhile, has a budget of around €320 million and employs more than 900 staff.
Even if the Government secures a deal, delays to the EU Withdrawal Bill mean it is unlikely that the UK will have the infrastructure in place to replicate the work of these agencies by March 2019.
In the Commons last week, Davis told the Brexit Select Committee he expected Britain to remain part of the Open Skies Agreement, European Medicines Agency, and European Aviation Safety Agency during a transition period.
The Conservative minister dismissed the possibility of Britain crashing out of Brexit talks with absolutely no deal reached, claiming “no deal of any sort” was “completely off the probability scale.”