Government departments have been asked to provide details of what additional staff they would need in the event of a no-deal Brexit by the end of this month as planning ramps up, civil service chief executive John Manzoni has said.
In an evidence session at the Public Accounts Committee, Manzoni said that preparation for a no-deal Brexit, which was dialled down in April following an extension to the UK’s exit date from the European Union to the end of October, was being reactivated.
“We are ramping up again, ready for 31 October – there has been and there will be quite a lot of activity over the summer,” he said.
Among the areas that have been reactivated are the staffing arrangements for no-deal planning that was in place earlier this year, Manzoni said. So-called buddy arrangements were developed to streamline the sharing of staff, as well as the creation of a government "clearing hub" for secondments across Whitehall. In February, Manzoni said around 300 people had moved already and up to 300 had been “matched” to other roles as part of the planning for a no-deal exit.
Departments are now being asked to set out their staff demands for an October no-deal exit before the end of this month, he told PAC on Monday.
“We have remobilised the people aspects,” Manzoni told the committee. “The hub that sat in the centre of government which started moving people around, in the last analysis last time, has begun ramping up again. By the end of this month we will have the demand in the departments now.
“As I said to… an internal committee recently, I believe it will be easier this time to move people around than it was last time, because I think the role definitions will be clearer. It wasn’t perfect last time, but I think will be better this time. So, I think in those dimensions, projects continue, communications will be ramped up.”
The UK is set to leave the EU on 31 October, and both candidates to replace Theresa May as prime minister next week, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, have said they would consider a no-deal Brexit if there is no further progress on negotiations.
Manzoni told MPs that some of the key issues that the UK faced in the runup to the March exit date would remain.
“I would say the areas which were always there which remain there – and I don’t want to be political about it – but the areas [include] trader-readiness, [which] is still an issue out there in the marketplace.
“So, the discussion is how do we ramp up communications again to try and persuade those people who took no notice last time… or said ‘no, I’m going to wait until it’s going to become real?’
“There’s obviously the Northern Ireland issue and associated things – there are still some issues at the border that we need to resolve. There is the data issue – that data-adequacy agreements won’t be made on an exit date. So, those issues that were there before are still there.”
Manzoni’s comments came as Johnson, who is the favourite to be confirmed as prime minister on Tuesday, said he would increase government communications on no deal if he became PM.
Although he said no deal was an “unlikely eventually", he told ITV's Peston show: “What we will do, is we will encourage people in a very positive way… From the get-go, we start saying, ‘Look, what do you need, what help do you need, what reassurances do you need? Agricultural, farmers in Wales… Fishermen, everybody, just in time supply chains, here is what the government has for you, are you ready?’
“And we make sure that everybody understands all the risks and eventualities, and it’s by doing that to get to the point that you made correctly just now, it’s by doing that in a really wholehearted and systematic and confident way, that you of course minimise any disruption that might take place in the unlikely eventuality of you having to come out on WTO [World Trade Organisation] terms.”
Additional reporting by Anahita Hossein-Pour