Staff numbers at HM Revenue and Customs have fallen by over 2,000 since the UK voted to leave the European Union, despite the department’s crucial role in preparing for the new customs regime after the UK leaves the EU.
The headcount figures, which were revealed in a parliamentary answer from Treasury minister Mel Stride to Labour MP Jenny Chapman last week, show that the tax department employed 67,450 in June 2016, the month of the referendum.
This rose to steadily to a peak of 70,015 a year later in June 2017, but has declined nearly every month since to now sit at 65,287 in the latest figures, which are for the month of April 2018.
Responding to the figures Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat MP supporting the Best for Britain campaign for a second referendum, told The Times that HMRC had “fallen asleep on the government’s watch” at a time when the agency needed “to be at battle stations, recruiting legions of staff” for Brexit.
A spokesperson for HMRC said: “HMRC is committed to playing its part in making the UK’s exit from the EU a success.
“HMRC currently has around 1100 people working on EU Exit, most in planning and preparatory roles. We are doing further recruitment at the moment, including for operational roles, which will be needed in due course.”
The figures come as the government continues to debate the options for a future customs relationship with the EU which would avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The government has published a white paper based on HMRC’s work setting out two possible options for customs after Brexit – a highly streamlined customs partnership and a new customs partnership. The first of these would seek to negotiate a continued waiver from the EU on the requirement to submit entry and exit summary declarations for goods being moved between the UK and the EU, while the second option could see the UK acting in partnership with the EU to operate a regime for imports that aligns precisely with the EU’s external customs border, even if goods enter the UK first.
HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson has indicated he would need up to 5,000 extra staff to deal with post-Brexit work.
In its latest analysis of civil service workforce data, published in March, the Institute for Government noted that staff numbers were declining in HMRC – and also at the Home Office – but stated that “this does not necessarily mean that they have not hired additional staff to deal with the demands of Brexit”.
“Both are very big departments and it is possible that Brexit-related recruitment has been obscured by staff cuts elsewhere,” said Aron Cheung, a researcher at the think tank.
“The reality is that these departments will continue to add to their staff as Brexit moves towards implementation. The Home Office needs to hire 1,500 Brexit staff by September 2018, and HMRC will need between 3,000 and 5,000 additional staff by March 2019 (some of this recruitment has already started).”