Grounded? Unfriendly Brexit could stop flights, spending watchdog chief warns

PUBLISHED: 12:47 10 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:03 10 October 2018

Inspector Morse on the Case of the Botched Brexit

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Your holiday flights to Europe could be grounded in the event of an "unfriendly" Brexit, the head of the Whitehall spending watchdog has warned.

Sir Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office, said many existing arrangements with the EU would require "goodwill" on both sides if they were to continue if Britain leaves in March without a deal in place.

Giving evidence to the Commons Brexit Committee, Sir Amyas rejected claims that it was "implausible" to suggest flights could be halted after March 29, saying a breakdown could happen by "mistake" as well as by the result of deliberate action.

He said that if the UK was to refuse to pay the £39bn "divorce" settlement in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as many hardline Brexiteers are calling for, it could lead to Brussels adopting a similarly tough line.

"It is not implausible. It is not impossible. It could happen by mistake rather than deliberately. It depends upon how friendly or unfriendly the accompanying music is as all this goes on," he said.

"If you say, 'Well, we're leaving in March and PS, we're going to take a very tough attitude, you can take us to court for whatever money you want from us and, and, and...', it is not impossible to think of scenarios where people might not be terribly helpfully disposed to us.

"The point about all of these arrangements is they do require mutual goodwill to put them in place."

Sir Amyas highlighted the chemical industry's "substantial" exports to the EU which depended upon Britain's continuing membership of the industry body in Europe.

"They will just stop if we don't get an arrangement. There are other examples like that if you are relying on goodwill to get that into place," he said.

While the situation had improved since he warned in July that the Government's Brexit plan was in danger of falling apart "like a chocolate orange", he said there would still inevitably be "points of failure", with the greatest "challenges" relating to border issues.

"Generally speaking, the Civil Service is putting a terrific effort behind this, but because of the large number of unresolved risks that will be there at March, some of those are bound to come to reality," he said.

"So rather than say it will fall apart like a chocolate orange, what will happen is there will be points of failure."

Sir Amyas said the government failure to communicate more clearly with business about its plans meant many firms would find themselves in a "very difficult position" after Brexit.

"It has been driven by a desire not to cause uncertainty or concern in the business community but I think it has carried a heavy price with it," he said.

"They underestimate the capability and maturity of the business community quite a bit. If you don't give them a chance to plan ahead and solve the problem, you are putting them in a very difficult position. I think many businesses are going to find themselves in a relatively difficult position."

Labour MP Virendra Sharma, a champion of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said: "This stark warning from the head of the National Audit Office today is further evidence that Brexit is looking to be far more complicated, messy and expensive than anyone could ever have envisaged back in June 2016.

"Even our own civil servants in key departments like Transport and HMRC haven't got a clue what's going on - that can't be what's best for Britain.

"It's time to put the power back in the hands of the people so they can decide if Brexit is really worth it, by giving them the final say with the option to stay in our current EU deal."

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