Two key Departments for a successful Brexit “have no clear plan in the face of an impossible challenge”.

London

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) face an unprecedented challenge in preparing for Brexit – and their preparations are being hampered by “pervasive uncertainty.”  This is the stark conclusion of the UK Parliament ‘Public Accounts Committee’ report published today, 4 May 2018.

Uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU leaves not only the departments themselves – but business who have to implement the consequential changes - in the dark about exactly what they need to do to prepare.

Defra is having to work on options for three different scenarios—‘deal, no-deal or transition’. This is both time consuming and costly.  The requirement is to draft and drive through new legislation and to implement major IT program changes in the short time available.

The Committee raises concerns over the ‘realism’ of Departments' plans from the evidence received.  The 2018–19 financial year opens with funding for departments’ EU Exit program not yet confirmed by HM Treasury – standing in the way of “effective government preparation.”

Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP: "Our committee has repeatedly raised concerns about Government’s preparedness for life outside the EU.  The clock is ticking and there is still no clarity about what Brexit will mean in practice.

“Against this backdrop, Government departments must deliver fit-for-purpose systems and ways of working, in tandem with managing what in some cases is already a complex and ambitious programme of work.”

Brexit Partners share the Committee’s concern about how realistic the departments’ plans for Brexit are - especially where new IT systems are required. 

Both the departments under scrutiny express optimism that they can deliver what has to be operational for March 2019.  However, business and commerce needs time to respond and make the consequential changes to their own systems and procedures.

There is a lot at stake.  A fully functioning trade policy is vital if the UK leaves the single market and/or customs union there need to be clear alternatives in place or business and the economy will suffer.  DIT appears to have defaulted to a ‘free trade policy’ – the scenario that demands the most time for business to adapt and adopt – and there remain many uncertainties and no clear timetable for changes.

Defra has said it will fall back on to ‘manual systems’ as it seeks to deliver all that it needs to for Brexit, but this will slow down or impede imports and exports - causing severe delays at borders.

The Committee has demanded clarity about what Departments will NOT now deliver as a result of dealing with Brexit as a priority.  Defra has now identified a requirement for 64 ‘workstreams’ (up from 43 in March 2018).  DIT – which was formed in direct response to the EU referendum result - has an as yet unquantified number of mission-critical responsibilities.

Brexit Partners brings unique insight into the implications and options for business through its breadth and depth of Brexit understanding.  We combine a high-level Brexit Discovery and a 'deep-dive' Brexit Impact Assessment.  This ‘Brexit Discovery’ process - typically undertaken over a four week period – identifies and quantifies Brexit impact on strategy, business planning - and the Brexit response program requirements.