Excl: leaked email reveals govt preparations for hard Brexit – and no Plan B

A leaked Civil Service email obtained by the SKWAWKBOX has exposed the government’s scramble to find resources for a hard Brexit – and the Civil Service’s recognition that Theresa May has no Plan B.

The crushing defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the Commons this week had the government reeling – but she narrowly escaped Labour’s vote of no confidence as the ‘bunged’ DUP again rescued her.

But behind the scenes, behind the drama, the civil service at the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) was already scrambling to plan and resource for the hardest of Brexits.

A leaked email obtained by the SKWAWKBOX, sent to all civil service ‘colleagues’ by Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Rutnam and Second Permanent Secretary Shona Dunn reveals that:

  • senior civil servants recognise that Theresa May’s deal is all the government had – there is no ‘Plan B’, nor any sign of expectation that May’s ‘explorations’ after the deal’s defeat in the Commons will yield any options
  • the government is ‘buying back’ annual leave from civil servants and allowing them to carry over leave to the next year, in order to maximise the number of people and hours available
  • the Civil Service has delayed its programme of annual performance reviews and reports so that staff can spend all their time on directly Brexit-related issues – with an impact on the incomes of those affected
  • the Service is preventing or postponing any staff moves between or out of Brexit-related roles

The full message sent as a broadcast email to civil servants on Wednesday is as follows:


You will have seen that the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement was defeated last night in Parliament, following which the Prime Minister set out next steps.

Subject to the House confirming its confidence in the Government this evening, cross-party discussions will then explore what approach would secure the backing of the House. The Prime Minister’s statement is here.

The Civil Service’s core task remains to support the Government in taking these important next steps towards securing a successful withdrawal from the EU. While this remains our primary focus, it is right that we also maintain work across the department to prepare for a No Deal scenario. This activity, led by Mark Thomson, has included a large number of colleagues across the department. In some areas a certain amount of other work has paused and people are moving to different roles. We remain very grateful for everyone’s efforts.

It remains essential that we all keep our focus on the day job and on what we can control, against the current backdrop. As well as directing our overall approach, the Home Office’s EU Exit Board has agreed some practical steps to support this focus.

These include:

Extending the deadline for the 2018-19 end of year performance conversations and Metis recording until the end of June 2019. We are not extending the reporting year itself, which will still run until 31 March 2019, and managers should continue to have regular, quality conversations about setting goals for the coming year.
Limiting the number of lateral moves within the department and delaying lateral moves across the Civil Service where the individual is moving out of an EU Exit-related role.
• Being more flexible on payment in lieu of annual leave and the number of days of annual leave that you can carry over, subject to the decision of local managers. We continue to encourage colleagues strongly to take their leave wherever possible, as part of maintaining your own wellbeing.

We will keep these steps under review in consultation with the teams most affected.

Given that there may be a continuing period of uncertainty, we encourage all of you to continue talking to your line manager and taking advantage, as appropriate, of the wellbeing support available to you.

We’d also like to echo the sentiments set out in a recent Horizon blog by the chair of the Home Office EU Nationals Network, and encourage all colleagues to listen to one another, share information about EU Exit with people we know, and think about ways we can show our support for our friends and colleagues.

Please continue to check the EU Exit hub on Horizon for the latest news and information, including details of the recently launched EU Exit public information campaign on GOV.UK. And please feel free to get in touch with us directly if you have questions that are not being answered and we will do our utmost to answer them.

Sir Philip Rutnam
Permanent Secretary

Shona Dunn
Second Permanent Secretary

(Links in the email will not work as they are ‘intranet’ links)

A senior Civil Service source told the SKWAWKBOX that such measures as buying back leave are extremely rare, with costs normally severely constrained – and that the decision to delay reviews (now called ‘conversations’) will impact the incomes of staff, as pay-rises are linked to the reviews.

The source also said that the government is also undertaking other measures not shown in the email, specifically to prepare for the chaos resulting from a hard Brexit:

  • retired staff are being invited to return to work at rates far higher than ordinary staff
  • staff from other areas and disciplines are being placed on open-ended ‘attachment’ to front-line posts, often with only rudimentary training

Both of these measures were described as desperate attempts to fill gaps in front-line customs and immigration units in readiness for post-Brexit, no-deal chaos. The impact on attached staff, who are being placed away from home, is significant – sapping morale that ‘has been low for years and is now dire‘.

DExEU and the Home Office were contacted for comment, but DExEU deferred to the Home Office. A Home Office spokesperson told the SKWAWKBOX:

We do not comment on the details of internal staffing matters. It is sensible though to have flexible and proportionate plans in place with staff wellbeing a key consideration.

The Home Office

SKWAWKBOX comment:

The leaked email and other information obtained by this blog reveal the extent of the government’s expectation of a no-deal Brexit and the Civil Service’s struggles to prepare for one.

It was clear before Wednesday’s no-confidence vote that Theresa May had no ‘Plan B’ in the event of her dismal deal’s inevitable – and eventually crushing – defeat in Parliament.

That there is not even the inkling of one is supported by the message to staff from some of the most senior members of the Civil Service.

That May and her party have botched Brexit and are unfit for government is inescapable. The UK’s only escape route is a general election and a Labour government.

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  1. ‘The UK’s only escape route is a general election…’, which by constitutional convention, we should be having following defeat of government’s flagship legislation.

    That government should cling-on to power after defeat of its flagship legislation was never the spirit of FTPA. As stated in the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Second Report on the Bill, the major reason advanced for the Bill was to *’…curtail the Prime Minister’s power to hold a general election at a time of his or her choosing for the purpose of seeking a partisan political
    advantage for himself and his party,…’*.

    Maybe, just maybe, government’s clinging on to power is unconstitutional and can be challenged in the courts. Maybe we need another Miller to take up the matter with the courts.

    1. “That government should cling-on to power after defeat of its flagship legislation was never the spirit of FTPA.”

      Ho! Ho! Ho!. And what would you like for Christmas?

      It was Tory legislation, FFS.

    1. To be fair, one of their MPs, Jim Shannon, has spoken out against Trump’s dangerous plans to withdraw from the crucial INF nuclear missiles treaty.

      This treaty has helped to protect us from a nuclear arms race and so its loss will put us all in danger.

      I would urge all readers of this blog to help preserve this important treaty by clicking on the two links below.



      Thank you.

  2. The problem for Theresa May and the Tories is that they can’t go for a second referendum because they know that the majority of Conservative voters voted for Brexit. And if this is the reality, then there is no chance whatsoever that there will be a second referendum, at least as far as I can see.

    I would be interested to hear any Remainers thoughts on this, and especially SteveH and RH, and as to how they think a second referendum could come about, given this reality (and I’m asking from a completely neutral standpoint, and not being confrontational).

    And in case anyone wants to check the details of the result:


    1. It is true that Labour still appear wedded to infinite growth on a finite planet which is still suicide by a thousand deadly slices in the medium term.

      A strong attachment to nationalisation of essential services is hardly neo-liberalism though.

      Abandoning austerity is probably a higher priority than abandoning capitalism in the short term, so a Corbynite Labour government can’t be any worse than what we have now.
      My thought though, is that with a government wedded to the idea of nationalisation, we’re more likely to get a government that can adapt to climate catastrophe/economic collapse/bio-doversity loss/soil degredation by mobilisation of the last remaining resources to keep more of us alive for a bit longer in a policy of Deep Adaptation.


      I was reviewing satellite data yesterday, and noticed the methane plumes in the East Siberian Sea and off Novaya Zemlya island are coming up through the ice sheet.

      1. Mark, I watched Rupert Read with resignation, having believed since the sixties that only a reduced population would solve enough of the world’s issues to make a real difference to the long term survival of humanity – while knowing that our systems of government encourage politicians to think short term.

        Growth has always been thought essential in terms of business and of population – I’ve heard economists say that standing still is impossible, that business must achieve ever-increasing growth or die.
        I’ve heard politicians say we need many more young workers to pay for pensions and the care of the old.
        In capitalist terms those statements are true – which just proves capitalism no longer can be justified.
        Even China, having once had a policy that made sense for the long term now sees population growth as essential to increased productivity. That it may be but productivity growth is anathema to the future of our species so it has to go.

        Without capitalism’s “market forces” populations could be encouraged to reduce their numbers gradually and relatively painlessly, using resources at a slowing rather than an accelerating rate.
        Otherwise a sudden painful reduction in our numbers seems inevitable, almost certainly during the lifetimes of today’s children.
        The fact that our overuse of resources is unsustainable has been clear for fifty years or more – back then food production was seen as the limiting factor.
        Climate change or ocean death-by-plastic look set to cause us problems short of some scientific miracle – but food or iphones may be the last straw.

        We might be OK if we can accept that we can live comfortably and pleasantly with just housing, food, respect from our government, entertainment, guaranteed financial security, one child and good neighbours.
        The rich will need to accept that too though or we’ll have to manage without them 🙂

      2. I tend to agree with Mark Bevis and would add that it’s a pity that Caroline Lucas and others appear unwilling to consider some of the greener opportunities (e.g. fewer air miles) that procurement strategies not bound by EU competition rules might allow. I’m thinking of the health and education services, for example.

    2. Good question, Allan. Not confrontational at all.

      I have never been optimistic about the chances (a) of it happening and (b) of it producing a more rational outcome. Nor am I sanguine about the way the propaganda will play.

      I have supported it as one way in which an entirely ragged-arsed parliament , with a history of bad, short-sighted decisions can get itself out of a disastrous constitutional situation.

      Simply – the only way it could happen would be a firm commitment by Labour, plus Tory Remainers and the other minor parties (forget the DUP – there’s no money in it).

      As you will recognize, I am totally opposed to Brexit, and always have been, for the reasons that I have outlined elsewhere. Actually, I’m a bit of a patriot, and the image that this country has on the world scene makes me uncomfortable. The fact that it is on the basis of an extreme right agenda and results from the Tory Party’s disconnections with the real world – and a general political fear of the propaganda press – is sad.

      I’m not sure that a wiser Labour position from the start would have made much difference. Certainly, the dust kicked up by the right was a distraction at a crucial time, and, frankly the Blair years had denuded the Party of real progressive talent. But the initial crucial mistake was to endorse Tory policy with initially running scared when Cameron proposed this abortion of a referendum, then, having done so, being unable to tell the truth about what was a minority vote in favour of Brexit that split the country, and then endorsing the unforgivable rush to Article 50 was a massive mistake.

      The net result was to hand the initiative to the criminal class – the Tories. It also gave the PLP right credibility. The net result is that the ‘clever’ politics has, indeed, let the Tories hang themselves – but, looking to the future, it has not given Labour a distinctive opposition position.

      So -what I feared has come to pass, with a drift towards Brexit, essentially tacitly endorsed by Labour, who, come an election, will find it hard to say what it would have done differently, and – with a win, will be entirely distracted by the downward slope of an already structurally weak economy. ‘I told you so’ won’t wash in this scenario, and half the populace isn’t going to be much pleased with a lack of strong alternative advocacy in parliament.

      So – at this stage – it’s desperate measures. The first thing would be to get a suspension of then disastrous Article 50. But that certainly requires more than shuffling around and looking at the feet whilst saying nasty things about the Tories. But, if that obvious move was achieved, then possibilities open up. The trouble is that the Tories have time on their side, and the populace in general seems to have reached the point of a beaten hostage, and just want it to be over.

  3. The Labour Left’s disdain for a No Deal Brexit is inextricably linked to its general attitude to capitalism and socialism. In contrast to the Left of previous times, forty years of neoliberal ideological domination has taken its toll by substantially eliminating socialist theory. As a result the Labour Left now tacitly yet fundamentally supports the capitalist system; it believes that, somehow, a durable anti-austerity level of public spending will be forthcoming despite leaving the structures of capitalist society intact.

    This is despite all the evidence pointing in the opposite direction, everything from the appalling decade of post-banking crisis austerity to the Callaghan government crisis which led to the 40 years of neoliberalism in the first place. And shunning international examples too like Syriza in Greece.

    Many Corbynistas would be quite happy with a Blair-Brown style economic policy provided it somehow results in a super-duper health service and other services and generous funding for all the other nice things they’d love to do. Leaving the combined political-economic ruling elite in charge of the economy is somehow compatible with that aim, so the story goes – despite the greater-than-ever power of the economic elite after globalisation and corporate concentration.

    It is notable that there is presently ZERO serious intellectual ballast supporting this view. Back in the 1950s there was at least Tony Crosland’s influential “The Future of Socialism” which made the case for a socialism which retained the domination of private enterprise. His arguments wore thin in the 1960s and 1970s and his book has not worn well at all. Yet in present days we are obliged to rely on the joke figure of ‘Mister Wobbly’ Paul Mason.

    The Labour Left majority’s present “stance” is essentially a rehash of Margaret Thatcher’s famous slogan “There Is No Alternative” (i.e. to capitalism). This is why most of the Labour Left appears to be indifferent to Labour governments having freedom over the right to bring sectors of the economy into public ownership and freedom to slant the economic playing-field in favour of that public sector via State Aids. Only a No Deal Brexit can achieve these governmental freedoms, yet as long as we harbour illusions that decent Left objectives can be achieved within the ever-narrower confines of capitalism, then we doom ourselves to a Syriza style fate with Jeremy and the team obliged to spend much of the next Labour government making “socialist” cuts in the style of so many continental “socialist” parties since crushed by their electorates.

    1. ” socialist theory”

      That great generator of actual bread on actual tables.

      The Labour Party has always been a creature of the ‘mixed economy’ and ‘socialist theory’ provides questions, not answers.

      1. Unlike neoliberal theory which has already killed at least 120,000 vulnerable UK citizens. Even the United Nations was shocked.

        I don’t know why you’re on this site.

        No doubt you endorse the NHS and the trappings of the Welfare State (Nye Bevan et al) yet the socialism that built those things is something you seem eager to knock down.

      2. I think you’ve just illustrated my scepticism about ‘theory’ (not the practice democratic socialism) that – as you’ve illustrated – has a habit of disappearing up it’s own fundamental orifice in flights of fancy if various writings are transformed into religious texts.

        Because, of course, there is no such singular beast as ‘socialist theory’, anyway.

        And, of course, your comment of ‘neoliberal’ (type) theory precisely illustrates my point from the other end of theory worship.

        ” the socialism that built those things” was an exercise in practical politics, not an intellectual exercise by a textual maniac devoted to a vision of a sacred text.

      3. Good analysis , Danny, Spot on. But “RH” is, just for once, quite correct too on one narrow point – Not that that contradicts anything Danny has said. (And of course “socialist theory” and historical memory provides a huge range of solutions to the crisis of capitalism – not just “questions” at all). The Labour Party has NEVER, ever, been a socialist party (despite Clause 4) , not ever. It has always been a capitalist party ,and a party fully supportive of all the crimes of British imperialism ever since its creation . But Labour also was always the organising political “vehicle” for the British working class – particularly the organised working class – and so was (apart from the sad British Communist Party – doomed shortly after it’s birth to be a handmaiden of the disaster of Soviet Stalinism ) always the natural political home of a substantial number of genuine socialists , both revolutionary and reformist – who DID have a theoretical understanding of capitalism – and how socialism, even a social democratic mixed economy , with major state intervention , particularly via economic planning, represented a significant deviation or even radical shift from the domination of the global capitalist market. “Bennism” being its final manifestation.

        Today’s “Corbynista’s , are , in contrast , overwhelmingly, completely divorced from this, even mildly reformist “social democratic” socialist tradition, and theoretical background in understanding. The majority of “Corbynistas” are merely well-meaning “Left Liberals” – a major difference from the reformist “Bennites” – who whilst utterly non-revolutionary, were imbued with enough understanding of capitalism, and how socialism represents a fracture from rule by the markets – to rational rule by democratic policy making and planning by everyone, not the capitalist class, to be classified as “Liberal Left”. As Bazza stated in a separate post recently – if the mass of people , particularly organised Party members, cannot even conceptualise a society , with its economy, operating beyond the dynamics of the chaotic capitalist market place they also cannot effectively fight to even challenge Austerity never mind capitalism. Just as slaves can never effectively fight for freedom whilst they accept the validity of the slave society in which they are trapped. Without socialist theory , there can be no effective socialist struggle – not even an effective sustained radical Left resistance to capitalist Austerity. That so many self-identifying “radical Corbynites” in our Party also believe the neoliberal EU is some sort of progressive, “internationalist” benevolent , institution, demonstrates vividly the argument Danny has outlined.

        The Trolls who plague this site ,are undoubtedlty, at best, Blairite neoliberals, some even Tories – but they are not actually the core problem. Our disastrous Party weakness is the absence, after 30 years of neoliberal ideological hegemony, of a class conscious mass membership, significantly drawn FROM the working class , armed with socialist tradition and theory. We may yet pay in Syriza-like disaster , if not blood, for the utter failure of Jon Lansman’s totally undemocratic organisation , the 40,000 strong Momentum , to carry out ANY socialist political education of its mainly Left Liberal membership at all . Lessons in doorstep canvassing techniques are not political education.

    2. Brilliant comment which articulates the political reality.

      Imperceptibly, over decades, our political goal posts have moved so far to the right and the working class has been so thoroughly groomed to accept neoliberalism that simply asking for crumbs from the table now seems too much to ask for. “There’s no magic money tree.”

      The Left no longer means what it used to mean which forces us to participate in a detective game to discover how genuine someone is. Do they truly care about the plight of the working class and the poor – or not, as the case may be.

      I think about the likes of Yvette Cooper who is ‘Labour’ yet one of the architects of the cruel Work Capability Assessment tests which have killed so many and I feel confused by people like Paul Mason who presents himself as a Che Guevara type comrade, yet he endorses the EU after he knows about the suffering in Greece and Portugal. Somehow he didn’t stand out too much when joining the BBC’s Questiontime panel.

      There are others too like Owen Jones who have made a career of supporting then criticising then supporting again, Jeremy Corbyn. This is the ‘Left’ the mainstream media begrudgingly presents to us – and we must be grateful.

      Peak ‘faux Left’ however must go to Tony Blair who proclaimed himself a socialist. He changed the landscape and made the struggle for true socialism harder. Socialists don’t just have the Right to contend with but also an army of neoliberal trojan horses within the Left.

      1. Brilliant analysis by JP but give the young people a chance, they have good hearts and we are just urging left wing independent socialist critical thinking for comrades.
        Read, read, read!
        But JP you perhaps worry about potential bloodshed when I would rather trade unionise the army and navy etc. – the majority of the rank and file are working people in
        uniform and if we are honest and democratic they will stand with us.
        Corbyn does have a lot of support from diverse working class people.
        I was the first in my working class family to go to university but I remember at 11 coming home with my sister to find my mum with her head in the gas oven (she had been deserted with 5 kids) but we swiftly turned the gas off, gently moved her out, opened the front door to get fresh air and I sent my sister to get a neighbour.
        My mother recovered and was there when I got my degree and couldn’t understand what she had done right when I got my Masters Degree.
        I now realise I/We are good enough, infacct we are good enough to rule the World!
        We are up against intellectual ants, we are up against thieves – legal thieves – who steal the surplus labour of diverse working people.
        Use left wing democratic socialist analysis, draw from history, think critically.
        Going back to Michael Foots book on Nye Bevan he made the brilliant point that working class people don’t like being had.
        We have all been CONNED by the CONservatives!
        With Tory Austeriity the first thing they did was to give tax cuts to millionaires and big business THEM (their class).
        so austerity had always been only for US! We have all been HAD!
        Together brothers and sisters we can democratically win the World through ideas. X

      2. It’s good to read so many insightful and articulate comments regarding the reality we live in, and I could probably spend hours responding to, and enlarging on, many of the points made, but in the final analysis, it all comes down to on the one hand Power, and on the other hand Fear, which are of course essential to the most fundemenatal of instincts (in all species) – ie Survival. And THAT is the great dilemma – ie that the very thing that Drives us as a species is the very thing that will lead to our destruction. Our self-destruction.

        Homo sapiens – which ironically means ‘wise man’ – is in the process of destroying the very habitat he/she lives in, our ‘Mother’, on the one hand, who gave us life AND sustains all life (along with our ‘Father’, the Sun), and as of since the 1950s We, in effect, have a gun permanently pointed at our head, and BOTH are as a consequence of the all-powerful instinct of Survival, and the ‘forces’ it generates…. Power and Fear.

        But IF – as it IS – survival of the species is the most powerful instinct at work in us, then perhaps, before it’s too late, we can evolve to a higher consciousness that frees us from the forces that have driven all life since it began, and work together to transform our reality and repair the damage we have done to our Home, and live together in peace and harmony.

        Do we really have any choice?

  4. Hard Brexit eh. Would this be a Cuba Minus or a North Korea Plus? I suppose that will depend on the depth and range of sanctions the EU is prepared to impose on a rogue state with nuclear weapons, running out of food and other supplies off the coast of Europe!

    1. It’ll be the more boring scenario of continuing economic decline and a consequent inability to address fundamentals.

    2. Britain’s a “rogue state”? First I knew.

      If the EU punishes the UK because it has nuclear weapons, then why did the EU not punish the UK for having nuclear weapons before?

      As for running out of food. The EU couldn’t care less. Food Bank Britain began years ago when we were already a member of the EU.

      If the EU imposes sanctions on Britain for leaving, then what does that say about the EU?

  5. Bloody hell guys what load of dogmatic tosh. Rome wasn’t built in a day and undoing the tory mess will take years. But at least there is the growing knowledge that selling off the countries assets is criminal and you tax corporations where they earn and you stop tax avoidance. Its remarkable what can come just from these few things

  6. Just reading Micheal Foot’s biography on Nye Bevan and came across a quote which could apply to May.
    May perhaps has to please the Tory rank and file plus most Tory MPs re Brexit.
    May also has to please Big Business and the City of London and perhaps we have a mirage of Leave whilst maintaining EC Neo-Liberal rules to aid capital?
    ‘May is following a cat calling mob through London but looks dejected. A passer by asks why are you following that mob?
    I have to May replies, I’m it’s leader.’
    The Tories have been trying to belittle Corbyn lately but perhaps it is they who are out of ideas?
    Let’s hope JC can make a Brexit with left wing democratic socialist planning that benefits diverse working people.

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