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Brexit preparations have cost more than £4bn, government spending watchdog says

2 min read

Ministers have spent more than £4bn preparing for Brexit, according to a new report by the government spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said between the EU referendum in June 2016 and the 31 March this year, government departments will have racked up at least an extra £4.4bn preparing to leave the bloc.

At total of £6.3bn had been allocated by the Treasury to prepare for Brexit, including planning for both 'deal' and 'no deal' outcomes.

But the watchdog said the £4bn figure represented a "minimum estimated level of spend" due to "limitations" in the data, meaning the true figure could be even higher.

The report found that around £2bn of the cash had been designated for spending on no-deal preparations in 2019-20, but was scaled back as the likelihood of that scenario lessened.

According to the watchdog, at least £1.9bn of the money spent went on staffing, with a peak of 22,000 civil servants working on Brexit planning in October 2019.

Meanwhile, the funds also included a £1.5bn spend on creating new systems, including £238m on building the EU settlement scheme, and an extra £69m spent on Operation Brock, to prepare Kent's traffic system for disruption in the event of a no-deal.

A further £288m was put towards bringing in expertise and external advice, while local government organisations were handed £104m to prepare for the UK's future outside of the bloc.

Responding to the report, Meg Hillier, Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "The public has been kept in the dark as to what the Government has been doing.

"Data is limited, and the Treasury seem unconcerned by the lack of transparency."

Meanwhile, Lib Dem Brexit Spokesperson Alastair Carmichael said ministers should "come clean" on how they had spent the cash.

"Billions of pounds have been thrown away in a bid to paper over the Tories' Brexit mess," he said.

"The public have a right to know where it is all going. In the face of major flood and the coronavirus threat, we have to ask if the Government knows its own spending priorities."

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO said: "In preparing for EU exit, government departments planned for multiple potential outcomes, with shifting timetables and uncertainty.

"Producing this report has highlighted limitations in how government monitored spending on EU exit specifically, and cross-government programmes more generally."

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