- The UK government’s work to prepare for a no-deal Brexit is going too slowly and risks not being ready on time, an influential group of MPs has warned.
- The Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday urged the government to ramp up preparations, as the country is not on track to be ready for a no-deal exit on October 31.
- Prime ministerial candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have both said they would take the UK out of the EU without a deal later this year.
- However, there is growing concern that the country will not be ready for this outcome.
- The report said that without ample time to prepare, government departments risk being rushed into mistakes like the Department for Transport’s ferry mishap, which cost the taxpayer about £85 million.
- The UK could be less prepared for a no-deal Brexit than it was in March, experts said.
- Labour said the report “exposes the government’s shambolic no-deal Brexit preparations.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
LONDON – The UK government is not on track to be ready for a no-deal Brexit in October, with its departments at risk of wasting millions more pounds on rushed moves to prepare for a Halloween exit, an influential House of Commons committee has warned.
Members of Parliament on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday urged the government to ramp up its no-deal preparation ahead of the potential plan for the UK to leave the European Union without a deal on October 31.
Two candidates to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader and prime minister – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – have said they would take the UK out of the EU on the scheduled date of October 31 without a deal if necessary.
Johnson, the strong front-runner in the contest, has described leaving on October 31 as “do or die.”
However, PAC’s report added to growing concern that the UK will not be ready to exit without a deal later this year.
“In just four months’ time, on 31 October, the UK is expected to leave the EU, yet momentum appears to have slowed in Whitehall,” PAC Chair Meg Hillier – the Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch – said on Wednesday.
“Departments must urgently step up their preparations and ensure that the country is ready,” she added.
PAC warned that without enough time to prepare properly, government departments risked being rushed into ill-thought-out decisions, like how the Department for Transport fumbled the process of hiring ferries earlier this year.
The Chris Grayling-led department cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds as a result of its procurement process to make sure the UK had enough ferries to import vital goods like medicine and food in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Eurotunnel took the UK government to court over contracts, which the DfT signed with three ferry companies in the run-up to the March deadline, including one which neither owned ferries nor had any experience of running them.
The £33 million out-of-court settlement paid to Eurotunnel, plus the cost of canceling the ferry contracts after Brexit was delayed until October, cost the UK taxpayer a total of about £85 million.
PAC said that while DfT had recognised the need to learn from this episode, “there is a real risk that the short time left before 31 October will force the Department into further high-risk procurements, which it wants to avoid.”
The report added: “Given the lead time needed to put ferry capacity in place, which the Department says can take a minimum of three months, any new procurement process would need to begin very soon.”
Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said the PAC report “exposes the government’s shambolic no-deal Brexit preparations” and added “it is beyond belief that he [Grayling] should be given another opportunity to squander public cash and throw our transport networks into chaos.”
Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat MP and supporter of the anti-Brexit campaign Best for Britain, told Business Insider: “Money that should have gone to making sure we have enough beds in our NHS has instead been handed to Eurotunnel because of No Deal chaos. It’s clear now that stopping Brexit is the only way of stopping the waste.”
A DfT spokesperson said the ferry contracts canceled earlier this year were taken out as an “insurance policy” and that work was underway to find operators who could provide additional ferry capacity in the event of no deal.
The UK will be ‘less ready’ in October than it was in March
“BBC Newsnight” found this week that 75% of civil-service staff assigned to no-deal Brexit readiness earlier this year were stood down after Brexit was delayed in April – and now face being stood up again to prepare for October.
Joe Owen from the Institute for Government think tank told Business Insider that the next prime minister would “come in and quickly realise the big risk that we [the UK] will be less ready in October than we were in March.”
Owen said that as a result of high turnover of staff in Whitehall, there will be many “new faces in critical positions and junior positions, working alongside new faces in Cabinet” who are “doing it [no-deal preparation] for the first time.”
He added that the steps businesses take to prepare for no deal were ultimately out of the government’s hands and that businesses were now more sceptical about the need to prepare, having “seen government cry wolf twice before.”
“They’ll be seeing Boris saying the odds of no deal are a million to one against and MPs saying they want to stop no deal – that’s the stuff that will stick,” Owen said.
“They are saying ‘we’ve been here before and it didn’t happen, why would we spend money again doing it?'”
Business Insider reported earlier this year that there was an even greater risk of supermarket shelves going empty because of shortages in October than there was in the run-up to the original Brexit deadline in March.
That’s because most of the warehouse space that companies used to stockpile goods in the run-up to March is not available in October, as it’s already booked up for the busy Christmas period, when demand for goods skyrockets.
Nearly half of Brits are stockpiling goods like food, medicine, and clothes to prepare for no deal, research published last week found.
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