Parliament’s Whitehall watchdog has accused the government of putting its head in the sand over no-deal Brexit as it becomes increasingly clear ministers have failed to prepare in time.
The cross-party Public Accounts Committee warned in a new report that the government was still “taking limited responsibility” for Brexit readiness despite there being just four weeks left until Britain leaves the single market.
In a grim report published on Wednesday the MPs warned that they were “extremely concerned about the risk of serious disruption and delay” because of government inaction at ports like Dover.
The MPs noted that it was the twelfth time they had warned the government about the issue since the Brexit vote, but that it was still “not doing enough to ensure businesses and citizens will be ready for the end of the transition period”.
Brexit preparations have involved more than 22,000 civil servants at their peak and have cost at least £4.4 billion, the spending watchdog said – and yet there are still “critical gaps in the civil service’s approach to planning, particularly for unexpected events or undesired outcome”.
This costly approach is compounded by the fact that the Treasury “still does not have a good grip on how much taxpayers’ money is being spent on cross-government priorities”, with excess spending on consultants and little investment in the civil service itself.
Gallery: Brexit timeline (Photo Services)
April 14, 2015: Manifesto launch
Feb. 22, 2016: Referendum date announced
June 23, 2016: UK holds referendum
July 13, 2016: A new prime minister
Nov. 3, 2016: High Court passes judgement in Gina Miller case
March 29, 2017: May triggers Article 50
April 29, 2017: EU-27 leaders meet
June 8, 2017: General Election
June 19, 2017: First round of negotiations
Nov. 20, 2017: New headquarters for EU agencies
Feb. 28, 2018: Draft for withdrawal agreement published
March 29, 2018: May visits each UK nation
July 6, 2018: Cabinet meets at Chequers
July 9, 2018: David Davis and Boris Johnson resign
Aug. 23, 2018: No-deal notices
Sept. 19-20, 2018: Summit in Salzburg
Oct. 20, 2018: People’s Vote March takes place
Nov. 14, 2018: Terms of Withdrawal Agreement are negotiated
Nov. 15, 2018: Raab resigns
Nov. 22, 2018: May says deal within grasp
Dec. 10, 2018: May pulls final vote
Dec. 29, 2018: Ferry contract sparks concerns
Jan. 15, 2019: Meaningful Vote takes place
March 12, 2019: Second Meaningful Vote takes place
March 13-14, 2019: MPs rule out no-deal Brexit
March 16, 2019: Pro-Brexit march takes place
March 21, 2019: Extension dates offered
March 23, 2019: Put it to the People March takes place
March 27, 2019: May offers to resign
March 29, 2019: ‘Brexit Day’
April 2, 2019: Alternatives dismissed in indicative voting
April 5, 2019: May requests further delay
April 11, 2019: ‘Flexible’ extension approved until Halloween
May 24, 2019: May announces resignation
July 23, 2019: Boris Johnson announced as Britain’s next prime minister
Aug. 25, 2019: Johnson discusses trade deal with Donald Trump
Oct. 2, 2019: Johnson proposes final Brexit offer
Oct. 17, 2019: New Brexit deal agreed with the EU
Oct. 19, 2019: Debate and vote on new Brexit deal
Oct. 19, 2019: Government requests Brexit extension
Oct. 19, 2019: Calls for fresh voting
Oct. 21, 2019: ‘Meaningful vote’ ruled out
Oct. 28, 2019: European leaders agree to extend date
Dec. 13, 2019: Johnson’s Conservative Party wins parliamentary majority
Dec. 20, 2019: MPs back Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill
Jan. 23, 2020: Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement becomes law
Jan. 31, 2020: The UK leaves the European Union
“Pretending that things you don’t want to happen are not going to happen is not a recipe for government, it is a recipe for disaster,” said Meg Hillier, the MP who chairs the committee.
“We’re paying for that approach in the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and can only hope that we are not now facing another catastrophe, at the border in 4 weeks’ time.
“But after 12 PAC reports full of warnings since the Brexit vote, the evidence suggests that come January 1st we face serious disruption and delay at the short Channel crossings that deliver a majority of our fresh food supplies.
“The lack of definite next steps and inability to secure a deal adds to the challenge. A year after the oven ready deal, we have more of a cold turkey and businesses and consumers do not know what to be prepared for.”
Trade talks with the EU to sign a deal have now continued in December, but there is little sign of a deal on the horizon.
Trade experts however warn that the hard nature of the Brexit chosen by Boris Johnson makes disruption inevitable, even if an agreement is forthcoming.
A UK Government Spokesperson said: “We are making significant preparations to prepare for the guaranteed changes at the end of the transition period including investing £705 million in jobs, technology and infrastructure at the border and providing £84 million in grants to boost the customs intermediaries sector. This is alongside implementing border controls in stages so traders have more time to prepare”
“With less than one month to go, it’s vital that businesses and citizens make their final preparations too. That’s why we’re intensifying our engagement with businesses through the Brexit Business Taskforce and running a major public information campaign so they know exactly what they need to do to get ready.”
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