15.We reported in February 2018 that “the paucity of information in the public domain about what departments are doing to support Brexit is undermining scrutiny of progress”. The Cabinet Office had told us that the government will be in a “satisfactory” position by March 2019 but has not set out what this means or how progress will be communicated. The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) told us the negotiations with the EU inhibited how transparent it could be.
16.The lack of transparency of this Department’s progress with its Brexit-related activities is a case in point. Its work streams are significant and complex and yet we have no detail on what the work streams are, how critical they are, nor the progress being made against them. The Department told us it is a decision for the whole of government over what level of transparency to bring to the detail of individual work streams.
17.The Department indicated there is a group of work streams that are more challenging because they rely on other parties. It explained it is progressing all aspects of implementing the work streams that it can, but other aspects, such as the Parliamentary time required to pass legislation, are outside of its control. We have no meaningful information on what these work streams are nor what the Department is doing to mitigate for these situations. The Department told us it is confident that it is doing all it can to be ready for when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
18.Across government, DExEU has estimated that up to 1,000 pieces of secondary legislation must be in place by the time the UK leaves in the EU in March 2019. This is in addition to the business-as-usual statutory instruments that departments need to pass each year. The additional 1,000 statutory instruments are mostly dependent on the powers in the EU (Withdrawal Bill), and most departments cannot finalise or lay their pieces of secondary legislation until the Bill has completed its passage.
19.The Department has around 150 of the 1,000 or so statutory instruments that need to pass through parliament to support its 68 Brexit-related work streams. These are in addition to its 120–130 business-as-usual statutory instruments which it needs to pass within the next year. The Department described how it has attempted to streamline the process by combining statutory instruments were possible. The Department told us its programme of legislation is “doable but it requires a great deal of good work not only from the Government side, but good co-operation from Parliament”. Depending on the amendments that are included in the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Department may need to do more work on its statutory instruments, but it has not planned for that scenario. It has also not planned any contingency to resort to in the event that the legislation it has proposed is not passed by Parliament.
20.The pace at which the Department must prepare and present legislation to Parliament means that decisions need to be made at speed. The current process of individual Ministers making decisions and writing around to see if others object may not be able to cope with the volume of changes required in the short timescales available. The Department told us it is likely that some innovation will be required in the current procedures so they are more suited to the forthcoming challenge.
26 Committee of Public Accounts, , Eighteenth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 467, 7 February 2018, paras 5, 19
27 Q 3
28 Q 4
29 Q 8
30 Committee of Public Accounts, , Eighteenth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 467, 7 February 2018, para 2
31 Q 27
32 Q 23
33 Q 30
34 Q 25
35 Qq 28–29
36 Q 32
37 Qq 26, 83
Published: 25 April 2018