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Leaving the EU: Civil Service Capacity

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2018

4. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of the civil service to manage additional responsibilities arising from the UK leaving the EU. (908298)

14. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of the civil service to manage additional responsibilities arising from the UK leaving the EU. (908308)

The Government are equipping themselves with the right people and the right skills for the UK to exit the European Union successfully. Almost 11,000 people are now working on EU exit-related policy and programmes across the Government, and the workforce plans will continue to be reviewed to ensure that our civil service can respond to emerging capacity and capability requirements.

The National Audit Office reports that the additional staff needed to work at UK borders after Brexit may not be in place by March 2019. Will the Minister explain why, almost 29 months since the EU referendum, the Government have not got their act together?

All reports of the National Audit Office are obviously interesting, but I have absolute confidence in the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is very confident that the Border Force will be ready—as am I, from my previous experience in that Department—for any eventuality of Brexit.

We are hearing on the news today that the Government are preparing for every extreme eventuality and possible consequence of Brexit. Which promised or commissioned services are already not being delivered because of the thousands of civil servants transferred to EU work and preparation for the various Brexit outcomes?

Departments are continually looking at and reviewing workforce plans, reprioritising and assessing changing needs. We have the beauty of having a fantastic civil service, with the extra funding that the Treasury has put in to make sure that we are able to get the civil service in place at this point, to continue to deliver on the important Government domestic agenda, while ensuring that we leave the EU in an orderly and sensible fashion.

In the field of justice, we have been lucky to enjoy very good civil, mutual judicial co-operation across Europe. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, are there plans in place, and are there the civil servants, for example, to rejoin The Hague conventions in place of the regulations in Europe and so on, to ensure that we have a smooth legal transition?

There is something wrong with the microphone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot be fully heard, and that is unsatisfactory, but I am sure it will be put right.

My right hon. and learned Friend asks an important question. We are now focusing on making sure that we get the deal we want negotiated with the EU—that is our top priority—but it is right that we prepare for every eventuality. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is working with partners around Europe to ensure that, but the best thing we can do in this Parliament to ensure that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit, including for the justice system and security, is to support the Prime Minister’s deal when we vote on it in January.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Prime Minister said that no deal need not be the end of the world and that Britain would be fully prepared in that eventuality? With this ramping up and extra investment, will our civil service have the resources it needs to be ready and deliver on time?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is right that, with just over three months to go before we exit the EU, we need to accelerate and intensify these preparations. I am confident that the civil service is well equipped to deal with that, but of course our focus and our key priority is to get the right deal with the EU and one that we can pass that through this House in January.

Will the Minister liaise with his colleagues in the Cabinet Office to ensure that civil servants, both there and in the Department for Transport, speedily come to a conclusion on air passenger duty and corporation tax, thereby giving a considerable boost to the Northern Ireland economy?

My colleagues in the Cabinet Office and in the Department for Transport are working together to ensure that everything is as smooth as it can be. However, I would reiterate that the best way to have a smooth solution to all this is to support the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister is putting before this House.