Politics

MPs to investigate huge cost of Brexit planning



Billions of pounds thrown at preparing Britain for Brexit including a no-deal departure are to be investigated by a powerful group of MPs.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee is to examine whether money was wasted as resources were ploughed into trying to get the UK ready to crash out of the European Union.

Many MPs despair that more than £4 billion has been diverted to Brexit preparations, and believe it could have been far better spent on public services such as schools, hospitals and fighting knife crime.

The committee will also examine how other key government projects were delayed or scaled back as Whitehall was forced to focus so heavily on Brexit.

The cost of hiring thousands of staff to prepare the UK for leaving is also set to form part of the inquiry.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier told the Standard: “The true picture won’t be known until around six months after Brexit probably, and there’ll be endless argument about what would have been spent anyway. 

“The number of staff recruited just for Brexit, not even for things the UK will run after/if we leave, that’s quantifiable. But it’s harder to pin down costs of other (non-Brexit) opportunities forgone/slowed down.”

In a sign of the MPs’ determination to forensically probe the impact and costs of Brexit preparations, she added: “We need figures from the NAO [National Audit Office] as all permanent secs [department heads] paint a positive picture of why and what they spent.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond was accused by leading Brexiteer MPs, desperate to rush through no-deal preparations, of being slow to open the spending taps to limit the threats of hurtling out of the EU.

One of the Treasury’s key tasks is to ensure robust processes are in place so spending is value for money.

Departments are responsible for their own spending and properly justified expenditure, with accounting officers ultimately responsible to Parliament.

However, the fiasco over the Department for Transport contracting a ferry company which had no ferries to help Britain cope with a no-deal transportation crisis, and then having to pay £33 million to Eurotunnel to settle a lawsuit, has raised questions over whether huge sums were wisely spent in the run-up to the long-planned March 29 departure date from the EU.

But the impact of Brexit on the country goes wider than whether funds were misspent.

Ms Hillier said: “We’ll be looking at which (non-Brexit) projects were slowed down or not delivered as a result of the inevitable (and necessary) preparation for no-deal exit. So we will be looking at effectiveness of spending on no-deal (bearing in mind that it will be hard to measure how prepared we are for no deal if no-deal never happens); costs of staff, projects delayed and descoped as a result of Brexit work, and cash cost of preparation.”

A government spokesman said: “We continue to plan for a range of Brexit scenarios. That’s why we have made around £4.2 billion available across government to help departments prepare.”



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