Gus O'Donnell: Civil service not prepared for handling Brexit

Posted On: 
17th November 2016

The UK civil service is not prepared for delivering Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, according to the country's former top mandarin.

Gus O'Donnell has warned that Whitehall is not prepared for Brexit
Credit: 
PA Images

Gus O'Donnell warned that the Government will have to stage a massive recruitment drive to cope with the "extra requirements" imposed by Brexit.

The former Cabinet Secretary also warned that the Government's other priorities risk being "crowded out" as ministers focus their attention on the process of quitting the EU.

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His comments, in an interview with The House magazine, come just days after a leaked memo suggested Whitehall was struggling to meet the Prime Minister's timetable for triggering Brexit and may need to hire 30,000 extra civil servants.

A report by the Institute for Government also claimed that Government's preparation for Brexit was "chaotic and dysfunctional".

Asked whether the civil service was prepared for Brexit, Mr O'Donnell - who served under Tony Blair and David Cameron - said: "There’s a very simple, short answer to that which is no. Brexit imposes a lot of extra requirements on the civil service. They’re not perfectly ready. 

"Are they capable and in the process of gearing themselves up for it? Absolutely. I feel very confident that they will get there, but it will mean bringing in new people, developing the skills in all sorts of areas and expanding them into other areas.

"I’m confident that they will get there. But no-one should be under illusions – this is an enormous job." 

Mr O'Donnell, who stood down as Cabinet Secretary in 2011 after six years in the job, said the civil service would "have to" recruit more staff.

"Whether they choose to beef up, they are going to have to put a lot of resources into delivering Brexit," he said.

"Now there are options there. One is you bring in more people, the other is you stop doing some of things that you’re doing at the minute. And I think government will have to make up its mind which of those it will have to do."