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MPs' alarm over Defra's Brexit workload

Defra’s Brexit-related work streams will increase by more than half, environment secretary Michael Gove has admitted, leaving MPs doubting whether it has the capability to deliver the work involved successfully.

In a letter to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee, he said the present 43 work streams were likely to grow to around 70 “once preparations for a no-deal scenario and longer term work caused by EU exit are brought together”.

The spring statement allocated Defra £310m in 2018-19 to prepare for Brexit, after the National Audit Office in December said the department would need 1,200 new staff by March 2018 simply to cope with the original 43 streams.

MPs noted that Gove had said Defra would give priority to complex projects for its ‘day 1’ plans, but did not elaborate on how these would be communicated or consulted on with businesses or local authorities,

Committee chair, Labour’s Mary Creagh, said Gove’s response meant “huge regulatory questions remain unanswered”.

She said: “This letter is the latest evidence of the growing scale and complexity of leaving the EU, which is the biggest administrative and constitutional task since the Second World War.

“We are concerned by how few of the ‘day 1’ plans have been published and outlined to businesses and investors, who need clarity about our relationship with the EU during the transition and beyond.”

She said Defra had lost 5,000 staff since 2010, leaving MPs with concerns as to its “capability to deliver a growing amount of Brexit-related work and the cost of hiring new staff”.


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