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Tue 17 September 2019
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“Lessons can still be learned from the previous period of ‘no deal’ planning, where in some cases rushed decisions meant taxpayers’ money was not spent well,” says National Audit Office.


The National Audit Office has started its biggest and most ambitious investigation into Boris Johnson’s ‘no deal’ Brexit by scrutinising the £6.6 billion of taxpayers’ money earmarked to be spent on the project for rushed decisions and the wasting of public money.

Parliament’s financial watchdog announced the “super investigation” a week after Parliament rose. It now includes the extra £2 billion Johnson earmarked this month for “turbo charging” the ‘no deal’ process.

It follows a total of 24 reports by the NAO on Brexit since 2016, which highlighted scandals and public waste. This included the exposure of former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s mishandling of ‘no deal’ Brexit freight contracts which cost the country more than £50 million including paying Eurotunnel £33 million in an out-of-court settlement.

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Others have revealed that, up to last April, £97 million was spent on consultants and HM Revenue and Customs will have to handle 260 million declarations compared to 55 million a year under a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Others include how £1.5 billion has already been allocated to Whitehall to cover ‘no deal’ emergency provisions under Operation Yellowhammer, the findings of which were leaked to the Sunday Times this week.

The NAO says: “With a challenge of this scale it is simply not possible for departments to plan for every eventuality. But lessons can still be learned from the previous period of ‘no deal’ planning, where in some cases rushed decisions meant taxpayers’ money was not spent well. We will continue to play our role, keeping a close interest in how departments perform and report to Parliament on risks to preparedness.”

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, has already condemned the Prime Minister’s announcement that he is putting even more money into a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

“The Prime Minister is promising to throw hundreds of millions at Brexit as though that will solve his problems, she told the Evening Standard. “With three months to go before 31 October there’s not enough time to spend this effectively – recruiting, training and delivering services takes more planning.”

The NAO report intends to examine every department’s role in spending the money, making the investigation very ambitious. This will include the coordinating role of Michael Gove, the Cabinet minister coordinating preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and spending in every department from the extra money given to the security services to money allocated to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Home Office; Foreign Office; the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Business. It will also include money given to safeguard Britain’s remaining Crown Dependencies, including Gibraltar, in the event of a ‘no deal’.

The NAO intends to publish its findings next spring, which means that the row over Brexit will continue long after Boris Johnson plans to leave.

The NAO has a long tradition of exposing major scandals and waste of public money. Past investigations include major computer project failures, including an aborted scheme to spend £12.5 billion on a computer system for the NHS; major failures in defence contracts which cost billions; and an exposure showing that four consultancy firms scooped nearly all the government work receiving £4 billion between them in taxpayers’ money from Whitehall.

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