Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs permanent secretary Clare Moriarty has sought a ministerial direction from Michael Gove in order to provide statutory support for £16m of Brexit spending before the EU withdrawal bill becomes law.
Moriarty received the approval from Gove yesterday for the spending, which will be used for six Brexit-related projects, including delivering a new national import control system for animals, a new IT capability to enable registration and regulation of chemical substances placed on the UK market, and systems for the licensing and marketing of veterinary medicines. Spending will also include the development of a new catch certificate system for UK fish and fish products being exported to the EU, as well as development of a UK system to manage the quota of fluorinated gases and ozone-depleting substances, and data exchange arrangements to identify the movement of EU and third-country vessels in UK waters.
The approval is the first use of ministerial directions to provide “statutory cover” for Brexit spending since Treasury permanent secretary Tom Scholar and Department for Exiting the European Union chief Philip Rycroft wrote to other department chiefs in October telling them to seek ministerial directions to authorise spending to implement new systems needed for after the UK leaves the EU.
Ministerial directions are most frequently used when departmental accounting officers, usually perm secs, think that to go ahead with a planned policy would be inappropriate or not value for money, as they force ministers to publicly defend their proposals and issue formal instructions to proceed.
However, they can also be used for ministers to provide approval for spending that does not have legislative backing in an Act of Parliament, such as for Brexit.
In her letter requesting direction for Gove to approve the spending, Moriarty said Gove had a “close engagement with Defra’s preparations for EU exit”.
“We are implementing a major programme of work at pace in order to be ready for a range of scenarios including the possibility of a ‘no deal’ exit without a transition period,” she said.
“We want our future relationship with the EU to be a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security cooperation. We are confident that such a partnership is in the interests of both sides, so we approach these negotiations anticipating success – we do not want or expect a ‘no deal’ outcome.”
Moriarity added that she was “satisfied that the planned expenditure on these activities meets the other Accounting Officer tests on regularity, feasibility and value for money, but a direction is required in order to meet the propriety test”.
In his direction authorising the spending, Gove said that direction would “support day 1 readiness [for] exiting the European Union”.
He added: “You have indicated that a direction is necessary because there is a small proportion of Defra’s readiness work which cannot wait until the EU (Withdrawal) Bill receives Royal Assent next year. There is however, an over-riding need to press on with essential work on the areas listed in order that critical time is not lost in advance of EU exit in March 2019.
“I note the residual uncertainties that will govern our plans to prepare for EU exit as negotiations with the European Commission proceed. I therefore expect these and all other preparedness projects to remain under continued scrutiny to ensure that they deliver value for money for the taxpayer whilst balancing the risk of taking no action.”