Whitehall told to halt plans for no-deal Brexit after spending £4 billion

PUBLISHED: 09:03 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 14:20 12 April 2019

Brexit demonstrators Les Curtis (left) and Ray Finch (right) in Parliament square London. They were hoping for a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: Tess De La Mere/PA.

Brexit demonstrators Les Curtis (left) and Ray Finch (right) in Parliament square London. They were hoping for a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: Tess De La Mere/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

The government is to stop emergency preparations for a no-deal Brexit following the latest extension to Article 50.

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The decision to halt no-deal operational planning by officials was taken at a meeting chaired by cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, according to a leaked email seen by Sky News.

The email, which was said to have been sent to all civil servants in an unnamed “front line Brexit department”, says the suspension was taking place with “immediate effect”.

Downing Street said departments were taking “sensible decisions” about the timing of their no-deal preparations following the agreement by EU leaders to extend the Article 50 withdrawal process to October 31.

However the move is likely to infuriate Tory Brexiteers already angry at the latest delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.

The government has committed £4 billion to no-deal preparations, but some MPs believe the six-month extension shows Theresa May was never prepared to countenance leaving without a deal.

According to Sky, the email said: “In common with the rest of government, we have stood down our no-deal operational planning with immediate effect.

“This morning, at a meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary, we agreed that the objective is to ensure we wind down our no-deal planning in a careful, considered and orderly way.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond claimed that the £4 billion spend included general Brexit preparations.

He said: “It would have been irresponsible not to prepare for no deal so long as it was a real, possible outcome.

“Making preparations for events we hope will not happen is an everyday part of government - we prepare for all sorts of outcomes to ensure we have readiness and we can manage them and mitigate the effects of them if they arise.

“Just to be clear about this, we’ve spent £4 billion so far on preparing for Brexit, but that is not just for a no-deal Brexit.

“Much of that money would be needed to be spent anyway in preparing us for Brexit, putting in place new systems to replace EU systems we’ve been using up to now.”

But Best for Britain supporter Jo Stevens MP said the money should have been used on “cash-starved public services”.

“It’s a completely irresponsible use of public money and today’s news lays bare that this was always just a political ploy which only served to back up the government’s scare tactics.

“It’s a disgrace and offers a key insight into why the public now want to have the final say on Brexit. They don’t want to see these huge sums of cash being wasted, and don’t want politicians telling them they made this choice so have to stick to it.

“Any form of Brexit must go back to the people for their sign off.”

Andrew Adonis, on behalf of the People’s Vote campaign said, ministers must now reveal how much has been spent on no-deal.

“Ministers must now tell us the truth about how much of our money has been thrown away on this. Is it the £1.5 billion reported in this morning’s newspapers, or even more? How many hours of civil service and health service staff have been lost to this? How many agency staff have been hired on expensive contracts? How many external consultancies have been engaged on six or seven figure retainers?

“The real scandal here is that the idea of no deal has been sustained for reasons of internal party management. As the Prime Minister has demonstrated in the last 10 days she never had any intention of pressing ahead with a no deal and so this idea was only kept alive so she could string along extremist opinion.

“Party has been put before country and the price will be paid by children, by the ill, by the old and by millions of people facing bigger household bills.

“We need to end this culture of conspiracy against the people. Instead we need to have an honest debate about the costs and realities of Brexit.

“And that reality is that, for any Brexit promises made in the last referendum will not be delivered, any Brexit will mean real costs to our economy, trade and influence and going ahead with Brexit now would offer neither clarity about our eventual destination nor closure.

“This is why support for a People’s Vote is continuing to grow across every political party and among some of those who voted leave in the last referendum - as well as those who voted to stay in the EU, because it is neither fair or reasonable to force a particular form of Brexit on the public without letting them decide whether or not we should go ahead.

“That’s because giving the public the final say is ultimately the only way to deliver a stable settlement that can command the confidence of both parliament and the country.”

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