£4.4bn spent on departmental Brexit prep by 31 January, NAO finds

Nearly £100m of spending written off, watchdog finds

Photo: David Cliff/NurPhoto/PA Images

Government had spent at least £4.4bn preparing for Brexit by the time the UK left the EU, according to the National Audit Office.

The spending watchdog said today that as of 31 January, departments had spent around two-thirds of the £6.3bn the Treasury had allocated to Brexit.

So far £92m of that figure has been written off as losses, the NAO found – including £50m paid to ferry companies by the Department for Transport contracted to bring medicines into the UK in a no-deal Brexit scenario and £33m in a legal settlement with Eurotunnel.


Departments have been preparing for a range of Brexit scenarios since the June 2016 referendum on EU membership. They have put extensive contingency arrangements in place to mitigate the effects of a potential no-deal Brexit – which would have meant a sudden break with EU customs, immigration and regulatory arrangements on 31 January – as well as the government’s preferred scenario of leaving the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place.

The greatest chunk of spending, £1.9bn, went on staffing costs. The civil service headcount has grown by some 30,000 posts since mid-2016, with much of the increase being to provide extra capacity for Brexit prep.

Around a third of the total – £1.5bn – went on putting new systems and infrastructure in place, while £288m was spent on expertise and external advice.

The government has been criticised for a lack of transparency around its spending on consultancy to support EU exit preparations. Last year the Public Accounts Committee found departments were taking well over the advised 90 days to publish basic details of Brexit consultancy contracts and some were heavily redacted, while others went unpublished altogether.

The NAO also found that departments had supplemented funding provided by the Treasury for Brexit prep with portions of their own budgets. Eleven of the eighteen central government departments spent more than they were allocated in 2017-18, and 12 did the same in 2018-19.

Altogether, they spent an estimated £301m of their departmental budgets preparing for Brexit.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said the report gave a “clear picture of how much government has spent and what that money has been spent on” for the first time.

“Producing this report has highlighted limitations in how government monitored spending on EU exit specifically, and cross-government programmes more generally,” he said.

“Our previous work has recommended that government continues to improve the way it plans and allocates money, linking spending to objectives.”

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