Moriarty praises DExEU as ‘department like no other’ as closure looms

Written by Richard Johnstone on 20 December 2019 in News
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Responses from across government highlight vital role in Brexit talks

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The Department for Exiting the European Union's permanent secretary has praised the ministry as “a department like no other” after it was confirmed that it will close in the new year.

In a statement on Twitter after it was announced that DExEU would close on 31 January, Clare Moriarty said its status dedicated to one project – the UK’s exit from the European Union – was unique in government.

“The model is changing as the project moves on but their expertise will be vital as we secure our future relationship with the EU,” she said. “Thank you @DExEUgov!”

Yesterday No.10 said staff would be helped to find other jobs when the department closes.

DExEU was set up in July 2016 by incoming prime minister Theresa May to lead Brexit talks with the EU, and was always intended to be a pop-up ministry.

However, this brief later moved to the Cabinet Office as May took charge of the negotiations. Since then the responsibility for Brexit negotiations and civil service preparations have moved between the two departments multiple times.

The department has had three permanent secretaries, beginning with Olly Robbins, who left in September 2017 to focus on the role as the prime minister’s EU adviser in the Cabinet Office. He was replaced by Philip Rycroft, who had been DExEU’s second perm sec, who then left in March this year. He was succeeded by Moriarty, who had been closely involved in the government’s Brexit preparations perm sec of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The announcement of DExEU's impending closure prompted praise from across the civil service for its work. 

Moriatry's successor at Defra, Tamara Finkelstein, praised the Brexit department perm sec's “close and constructive work with Defra”.

Emily Miles, chief executive of the Food Standards Agency who previously oversaw Defra's Brexit preparations, said the department's staff had “a formidable, cross-government understanding of delivery, constitutional matters, and negotiations”.

Jonathan Jones, the permanent secretary of the Government Legal Department and Treasury Solicitor, also praised the work of the department.

According to recent briefings from government insiders, the move to shut DExEU is just one of a number of potential machinery of government changes planned for the new year. Reforms could include splitting off a standalone department from the Home Office to manage borders and immigration; moving the responsibility for tackling climate change out of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and merging the business department with the Department for International Trade.

The reorganisation is expected to come alongside a major cabinet reshuffle. Yesterday's announcement means Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay will lose his existing cabinet position, while it has been reported that Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is in line to lead the “super department” formed by the proposed merger of the business and trade ministries.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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