Government guidance defends Get Ready for Brexit countdown calendar

Campaign factsheet acknowledges, but refutes, questions over politicisation of civil service

Photo: GOV.UK

By Richard Johnstone

10 Oct 2019

A factsheet published to set out details of the next stage of the government’s controversial Get Ready for Brexit campaign has defended the media blitz and insisted it “does not contain party political messaging”.

In a detailed rebuttal of some of the questions the civil service has faced since the campaign was launched, the Cabinet Office factsheet said it provided “essential information to businesses and members of the public”.

The £100m drive, launched last month, has been controversial as it came at a time when the government was unsuccessfully attempting to call a general election.It has continued despite parliament passing legislation intended to stop the UK leaving the European Union without an agreement. Among those expressing concerns was Labour MP Mary Creagh, who wrote to cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill calling on the government to halt the campaign, which she said had already been politicised.


Published to coincide with the new phase of the campaign – complete with a countdown to the UK's current 31 October departure date, the publication answers questions including: “The civil service is supposed to be impartial, why is it supporting Brexit?” and “Isn’t this politicisation of the civil service?”

The guidance stated that the campaign “provides the facts citizens and businesses need to know about the preparations they need to take to be ready for when the UK leaves the EU”.

Addressing the concern over whether it is “right that the taxpayers’ money should be used to promote Brexit?”, the literature retorts that “the campaign does not seek to promote Brexit”.

“Its objective is to ensure that citizens and businesses are fully prepared for the changes that will come from the UK leaving the EU.”

Addressing the concern that “The civil service is supposed to be impartial, why is it supporting Brexit?”, it replies: “The civil service code clearly sets out that all staff should adhere to the standards of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. Impartiality means that civil servants must serve the government of the day, whatever its political persuasion or policies, to the best of their ability no matter what their own political beliefs.

“The government’s policy is that the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. It is the job of civil servants to support ministers in delivering that policy and to help ministers communicate that policy factually.”

It said the campaign is not politicisation of officials because “the purpose of this campaign is to inform people and businesses of the actions they need to take to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU in a factual way and does not contain party political messaging”.

The Cabinet Office factsheet also addresses the question of whether the legislation passed by MPs to stop a no-deal Brexit would make leaving the EU on the 31 October against the law.

It states “no”, while setting out the terms of the act, and concludes: “The EU would need to agree any request for an extension and if they did not then the exit date would not change.”

The pamphlet adds: “It is important that businesses and citizens prepare themselves for leaving the EU on 31 October and do not assume that they can put off preparations until a later date.”

The new stage of the campaign heralded by the factsheet will include the introduction of a countdown calendar to 31 October on billboards and other communications.

“Our creative approach was tested across the UK. This research showed that action was more likely to be taken when it was made clear that there were fewer than thirty days to do so,” according to the Cabinet Office.

“We continually optimise the campaign to make sure the right messages reach all of our audiences.”

Yellowhammer details

The details of the comms campaign come after the government revealed more details of its Operation Yellowhammer plans that will kick in if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal and which have been developed across Whitehall.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, who is heading up the government’s no-deal preparations in the Cabinet Office, published a government no-deal readiness report on Tuesday afternoon.

The readiness report confirms that Yellowhammer has been led by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and provides detail on how the assessment was complied.

The assessment provides “a common, stretching, scenario for all stakeholders to plan against and for which, if plans are in place, a reasonable level of preparedness can be expected for most manifestations of the risk”, according to the readiness report.

“The lead government departments responsible for each impact area have taken steps to define the potential impact, develop reasonable worst-case planning assumptions and put in place contingency plans to mitigate, as far as possible, potential disruption.”

The report also confirmed that Yellowhammer’s operations base will provide “a coordination system across the government and partners for deployment at the time of exit, to allow the rapid identification of impacts, fast decision making and delivery of effective responses”.

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