UK 'not ready' for Brexit warns former Whitehall chief Gus O'Donnell

Posted On: 
9th February 2019

Britain is "not ready to leave" the EU and must seek an extension to the Article 50 process, former Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell has warned.

Gus O'Donnell is a former Cabinet Secretary.
PA Images

Writing in the Evening Standard, Sir Gus said that leaving on 29 March as planned was "a recipe for further division and dysfunction in politics".

The former Whitehall chief said that "the priority must be to seek an extension of the Article 50 timetable, to allow for a process of deliberation in Parliament and the country about the direction of our future relationship with the EU".

Emily Thornberry calls for ‘sensible’ Article 50 extension to avoid no-deal Brexit

Shadow minister breaks ranks to demand Article 50 extension and second EU referendum

John McDonnell drops strongest hint yet that Labour will back bid to extend Article 50

His warning was echoed by another former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Kerslake, who backs a second EU referendum.

Launching a report by the People's Vote campaign, he said: "As a former head of the civil service, I worry that we are not ready as a country to step into this unknown future."

The warnings from the former mandarins came as it emerged that the UK was putting pressure on some of the world's poorest countries to agree Brexit trade deals.

The Independent reported that International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has been asking developing nations such as Ghana, Mauritius, Swaziland, the Ivory Coast, Namibia and Kenya to sign up to trade deals without knowing the circumstances in which the UK will leave the EU.

His department is said to have threatened the countries with punishing tariffs if free trade deals are not secured.

The charity Traidcraft Exchange said the possibility of no-deal meant that "countries are being asked to sign up blind.” 

"The Government is relying on developing countries being compelled to sign up at the last minute, rather than risk high tariffs being slapped on their key exports," the charity's policy chief Liz May said.