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With only a few months to go until Theresa May triggers Article 50, new research by the Institute for Government finds that there are signs of progress in Whitehall but the civil service urgently needs to be told how to prepare for the negotiations process and life outside the EU.

The new report ‘Whitehall’s preparation for the UK’s exit from the EU’ says the absence of a clear plan for Brexit and the Government’s desire for secrecy are hindering preparations for Article 50 and the negotiations that will immediately follow. 

Departments are not working consistently across the board to ensure we have the policies and implementation plans in place to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ at the point of exit.

The report also argues that, for many departments, Brexit may create a severe budget squeeze on top of significant spending cuts already in train. Some of the most affected departments– such as Defra and the Home Office – will have to work out how to meet the demands of Brexit with an already shrinking budget. And some Brexit tasks including the drafting of the Great Repeal Bill are already proving to be more complex than anticipated.

Dr Hannah White, Director of Research, said:

“We are rapidly approaching the triggering of Article 50, but our research shows that the civil service still doesn’t have what it needs – in terms of money, staff and information – to enable politicians to get the best deal for the country.

“This is not about revealing whether we are heading towards a hard, soft or grey Brexit. This is about being ready for the negotiations, and getting ready for life after Brexit. We know the civil service has the skill to do this, now it needs clear direction from Number 10.”

The report finds clear signs of progress in Whitehall but it makes four specific recommendations.

The Government must:

  1. Provide more information on the process, timelines and expectations that departments need to meet by the time Article 50 is triggered.
  2. Decide how it will run negotiations.
  3. Ensure departments are doing sufficient planning, including how to realise the opportunities offered by Brexit.
  4. Ensure departments have sufficient staffing and money for both Brexit and existing commitments, or acknowledge that plans must be trimmed.