Equipping the Government for Brexit Contents

2Changes to machinery of Government

New Departments to manage the exit process

9.On 13 July, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the creation of two new Government Departments to manage aspects of the Brexit process: a Department for Exiting the European Union, led by the Rt Hon David Davis MP, and a Department for International Trade, led by the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP. The official responsibilities of the Department for Exiting the European Union are:

10.Much of the new Department’s work will overlap with the existing work of the FCO, particularly with respect to supporting the UK’s bilateral relationships with the EU and with its Member States. Along with the Secretary of State for International Trade, the leaders of all three Departments will represent the UK abroad in different and at times overlapping capacities. The extent of this potential overlap has been underscored by the Prime Minister’s decision to share the Foreign Secretary’s official residence, Chevening, between the three Secretaries of State because, according to her spokeswoman, all three will “be needing an opportunity to host foreign visitors and leaders”.17 It is therefore essential that the three form an effective triumvirate as quickly as possible, with close working relations and clear delineation of responsibilities.

11.It is also expected that key personnel will be transferred from across Whitehall to support the work of the Department for Exiting the European Union. This is likely to include a particularly large proportion of officials from the FCO, including from its Europe directorate and from UKRep in Brussels.18 Yet as the former Foreign Secretary told us last year, the FCO is already “pretty close to the irreducible minimum of UK-based staff on the network.”19 While it is essential that the Whitehall officials with relevant expertise are identified and put at the centre of managing the exit process, this cannot come at the expense of an already-overstretched FCO or it will threaten other aspects of the UK’s bilateral relations with some of its most important partners. The FCO should be given the resources needed to back-fill those positions left vacant by officials sent to other Departments.

12.It should also be noted that the process of exiting the EU is currently anticipated to be finite and time-limited. When that process comes to an end and the machinery of Government is again re-organised, those FCO officials sent to other Departments should be able to return to the FCO or the Department for International Trade, with a view to increasing the country’s overall representational capacity over the long term. The expertise and institutional knowledge of those individuals will be critical to the FCO in shaping and managing relations with our European partners far beyond the conclusion of the exit negotiations.


13.The Prime Minister should give the FCO the resources it needs to fill any gaps in its capacity left by the departure of officials to other Departments as part of Whitehall’s management of the EU exit process. The Government should also ensure that those officials can be re-integrated into the FCO or the Department for International Trade when the exit process is complete, to add their expertise and experience to the country’s overall representational capacity in the long term.

16 Department for Exiting the European Union, ‘About Us’, accessed 18 July 2016

17 Rowena Mason and Andrew Sparrow, “Boris Johnson forced to share mansion with Liam Fox and David Davis”, The Guardian, 18 July 2016

18 James Blitz and Sarah Neville, “Task of delivering Brexit causes turf wars in Whitehall”, Financial Times, 18 July 2016

19 Oral evidence taken on 9 September 2015, HC (2015-16) 381, Q74 [Mr Gapes]

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20 July 2016