Preparing Brexit: how ready is Whitehall?

Deep political divisions over Brexit are creating a culture of secrecy in Whitehall. This report argues that the greatest challenge in delivering Brexit now stems from the inability of a split Cabinet to make critical decisions. Political tensions are driving inordinate levels of secrecy, where key documents – even in relation to necessary planning – are classified higher than necessary and locked away in a few rooms across Whitehall. Important information is not being shared between departments, and those outside government with a legitimate reason to be kept informed, such as Parliament and business, are kept in the dark. It concludes that this secrecy makes effective co-ordination across departments, devolved administrations and public bodies extremely difficult. Preparations are being hindered by competing ministerial preferences, poor information flow and the continued deferral of critical decisions on the UK’s preferred future relationship. In addition to secrecy and delayed decision making, the report identifies three other challenges, including struggling to get (and keep) the right civil servants in place, inconsistent planning assumptions and ineffective consultation with business. The biggest challenges facing the Government– political divisions, minority government and impossibly tight timelines — are not easily addressed. But the paper makes five recommendations to help get Whitehall back on the road to delivering Brexit.

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