Departments left to 'struggle on their own' over Brexit, National Audit Office head warns

Sir Amyas Morse goes public with concerns over government's 'uncoordinated' response to leaving the European Union


By Emilio Casalicchio

13 Jul 2017

Theresa May’s plan for Brexit could “fall apart like a chocolate orange” if she fails to hold government departments together through the process, the head of the National Audit Office has warned.

In a highly unusual intervention, Sir Amyas Morse said he was yet to see a unified approach from ministers rather than simply “vague” assurances.

Morse said he had demanded to see a ministerial plan to guide departments through the structural and legal challenges facing the UK as it quits the EU, but had so far been denied. 


In a rare interview with reporters which illustrates his level of concern, he said: “Leaving the EU is a negotiation.

“It means the results are uncertain and [departments] need to be fast and flexible and react in a unified way. We have an issue there because we have departmental government.

“What we don’t want to find is that at the first tap it falls apart like a chocolate orange. It needs to be coming through like a cricket ball.”

Morse  added: “There has to be strong integration. To have things start to go wrong and then say, ‘Oops, perhaps we might have to be a bit better integrated’ really is second best.”

He said he “wouldn’t be speaking like this” if he thought the right co-ordinated approach to Brexit across Whitehall was in place.

“It is symptomatic of whether the government is really able to drive this across departments or whether we leave each department to struggle with it on their own,” he warned.

It comes as the NAO warned the new system for handling customs checks might not be ready by the time of Brexit – putting tax collection, international trade and the UK’s international reputation at risk.

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