Members of Parliament are split over whether Whitehall has the capacity to cope if Britain votes to leave the European Union next week, according to an exclusive poll carried out for Civil Service World.
Voters will decide in just seven days' time whether the United Kingdom remains in, or leaves, the EU – with a number of polls in recent weeks indicating that the momentum is now with the leave camp.
But the CSW/Dods Research survey shows that MPs are sharply divided along party lines over whether the civil service could deal with the fallout of a vote for Brexit.
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Half of all the MPs asked said they believed officials had the resources to deal with a leave vote, while 40% said they did not. The remaining 10% said they did not know.
However, Conservative MPs overwhelmingly said they believed Whitehall could cope with a vote for Brexit, with 71% of Tories agreeing that the civil service did have the capacity. Fewer than one-in-five (19%) of the Tory MPs polled felt the civil service did not have the resources, and the rest said they did not know.
That stood in stark contrast to Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party, with 59% of Labour MPs saying they did not believe the civil service had the resources to respond to Brexit, and 57% of SNP MPs taking the same position.
Fewer than a third of Labour MPs and SNP MPs (30% and 29% respectively) expressed confidence that Whitehall was sufficiently resourced for the fall-out from a 'Leave' vote.
The study comes after experts on both sides of the EU debate clashed over the civil service's ability to deliver on a Brexit decision.
Dan Corry, former head of the Number 10 Policy Unit, told CSW recently that there would be “chaos at the centre of government” in the wake of a Brexit vote, with prime minister David Cameron likely to be “severely weakened” even if he chose to stay on.
Meanwhile, Sir Simon Fraser, formerly the most senior official at the the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said his old department would need an immediate injection of resources to cope with Brexit negotiations.
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that a vacuum would develop at the top of government, but you would have to bring in some very senior and able people to work on this,” he says. “It would be a significant burden on the administration.”
Bernard Jenkin, prominent Conservative Eurosceptic and chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee told CSW, however, that there would be "no mad rush to get a whole lot of stuff done by a certain deadline", adding: "It is not necessary to have an audit of every single piece of European legislation and how it affects the UK. The government had the Balance of Competencies review in 2012. It already knows exactly where we are affected by EU legislation.”
George Osborne on Wednesday raised the prospect of fresh cuts to departmental budgets in the wake of a Leave vote, saying he would be forced to make £15bn more of public spending reductions if the UK opts for Brexit.
More than 60 Conservative MPs – including justice secretary Michael Gove – have already said they would block such a move, but Osborne insisted his "emergency" Budget would see £2.5bn of cuts to health, £1.15bn to education, £1.2bn to defence, and £5.75bn to other departmental resource spending.
The remaining cuts would come from capital spending and pensions – while Osborne also said he would implement £15bn-worth of tax rises.
Nigel Farage, UK Independence Party leader and Leave campaigner, dismissed Osborne's plan as a "fantasy Budget".
You can read Civil Service World's full, in-depth analysis of what both a Leave and Remain vote is likely to mean for officials here