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.
• 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
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
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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