Committee For Exiting The European Union Hears From Permanent Secretary, Department for Exiting the EU

In a meeting of the Committee for Exiting the European Union, I asked the Head of UK Governance Group and Permanent Secretary, Department for Exiting the European Union, about the Salzburg Summit, how prepared DExEU is for the range of different scenarios that could come out of the Brexit vote, and whether DExEU has prepared a sector by sector analysis.

Stephen Kinnock: There is an important summit coming up in Salzburg on 20 September. I was just wondering what the thoughts of the Department are about that summit. What would you expect to achieve from that, and to what extent do you expect Brexit to be on the agenda in a substantive way? Do you think it will all just be shoehorned in for the last 20 minutes, which is what we have seen in previous summits?

Philip Rycroft: Thank you for your question; I am going to sound like a stuck record, but that is the sort of question that it would be more appropriate to put to Mr Raab. You spoke to Mr Raab and Mr Robbins before the recess, but the planning for Salzburg, the position the UK takes at Salzburg and the lobbying we do in advance of that are ultimately led by the Prime Minister, and it would not be right for me to speculate on what plans she has to get the most out of that gathering.

Stephen Kinnock: In terms of the view of your Department on no deal and how that plays into the meaningful vote that has been promised in Parliament in the autumn, it will be such a fast-moving scenario if we imagine that there could potentially be a stalemate in Parliament. To what extent is your Department prepared for different scenarios—so, if Parliament instructs the Government to take a particular course of action, what that course of action might be and how you would respond accordingly? Do you have a range of scenarios that you are looking at, or is it just one or two different options that you would be working on?

Philip Rycroft: In terms of the work across Government, to reinforce the point, the DExEU responsibility for preparedness in terms of what happens in a deal or a no deal scenario is cross-Government. It is not just about DExEU being ready for that. Our job is to co-ordinate and monitor all of that. In terms of the processes for the meaningful vote and what is put to Parliament, clearly we are not at that stage yet. The work on the negotiations is still going on. Ministers have made it clear that the vote will be on the deal that is on the table. Again, I’m sorry, but it is really not for me to speculate on what might happen beyond that point. Clearly, it is the Government’s intention to put a deal to Parliament, which will secure the assent of Parliament, and then we can move on. The job I then have is to support Ministers in the introduction and passage of the EU withdrawal agreement Bill, which will put into UK law the necessary elements arising from our international commitments under the withdrawal agreement, particularly on citizens’ rights. We published a White Paper on that, as you know, just before the recess, and a lot of work went on to ensure that we are ready for the introduction of that Bill in due course.

Stephen Kinnock: Looking at the different sectors—chemicals, food and drink, clothing, manufacturing, cars and retail—it would appear that they would be the sectors most severely impacted by a no deal scenario, by which I assume we move on to WTO terms and the substantial non-tariff barriers in particular that would be created as a result. Do you have a sector-by-sector analysis? What specific actions are you taking according to each of those key sectors?

Philip Rycroft: This comes at various levels, of course, because there are issues that concern businesses across lots of different sectors, but as you hone it down, the impacts are differential depending on the sector. There are macroeconomic issues, some systemic issues—the flow of trade—and then there are sectoral issues. DExEU is working across the piece, ensuring that competent plans are in place to deal with every level of those potential impacts. As Ministers have made clear, no deal would not be without challenges, but it is my job to support Ministers, ensuring that we can make a success of those circumstances as well. That means having a good understanding of the impact right the way across the economy. That is done with a lot of work within Departments where they lead on those particular sectors of the economy. It is also part of the work we do on engagement, almost as a cross-check to ensure that we pick up all the relevant concerns so that we have a good feel for where businesses see the issues that might arise in the unlikely event of a no deal scenario.