Equipping the Government for Brexit: Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report

Special Report

The Foreign Affairs Committee published its Second Report of Session 2016–17, on Equipping the Government for Brexit, on 20 July 2016, as House of Commons Paper HC 431. The response from the Government was received on 29 November 2016 and is appended below.

Appendix: Response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Government welcomes the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into Equipping the Government for BREXIT, published on 20 July 2016. We welcome the detailed work the Committee has undertaken and comment on the main points of the Inquiry.

This Paper sets out our response to each of the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations. The Committee’s text is in bold and the Government’s response is in plain text. Paragraph numbers refer to the Committee’s report.

Funding the FCO after Brexit

1.We recommend that the new Government commits to a substantial increase in the funding available to the FCO commensurate with the enormity of the task it now faces. The FCO should be able to use this additional funding wherever in the world it deems necessary, on the programmes or personnel it considers essential to support the country’s reputation, security, values and prosperity through this period of transition. (Paragraph 8)

Cross-Government discussions are underway about how the FCO effectively allocates the resources required to support the UK’s reputation, security, values and prosperity through this period of transition and beyond. This will help ensure that the FCO has the resources required to meet its needs as part of Whitehall’s management of the EU exit process. In his Autumn Statement on 23 November the Chancellor announced £10m over the course of the Spending Review period for a network of jointly-funded FCO and Department for International Trade trade policy officers.

Changes to machinery of Government

2.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. (Paragraph 13).

Diplomatic Service officials moving from the FCO to the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) are being loaned to the new department. They will be able to return to the FCO and the associated funding will return in the event that DExEU’s work is complete. This is without prejudice to any decision Ministers may take in future on handling the EU.

Absence of contingency planning

3.The previous Government’s considered view not to instruct key Departments including the FCO to plan for the possibility that the electorate would vote to leave the EU amounted to gross negligence. It has exacerbated post-referendum uncertainty both within the UK and amongst key international partners, and made the task now facing the new Government substantially more difficult. (Paragraph 19)

4.The lack of contingency planning inevitably means that the Government’s plans are tentative and just emerging. We intend to examine these at the earliest available opportunity, including how the Government plans to consult other interested parties in the UK. (Paragraph 20)

As you have noted, the previous Government took the decision not to undertake planning in preparation for a referendum decision to leave the EU. This Government is already working hard on how we will approach the new opportunity created. The Prime Minister will lead our negotiations for leaving the EU. This will be supported by the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), which will in turn be supported by the FCO and its network of overseas posts.

The FCO will also provide support to the work of the Department for International Trade (DIT), including by promoting the Government’s Global Britain communications campaign, which emphasises that the UK remains a major global political and economic power.

The UK will still be a member of the UN Security Council, NATO, OSCE, OECD, WTO, the Commonwealth and many other important groupings. We will be a leading advocate of open societies and free trade, seeking to secure favourable conditions for growth, not only for ourselves, but across the globe.

The FCO will play a full role in supporting the Government as a whole as it conducts the negotiations for our withdrawal from the EU and the nature of the relationship that follows.

15 December 2016