Operational planning for a no-deal Brexit is being wound down by the government “with immediate effect”, according to Sky sources.
In an email obtained by Sky News, the permanent secretary of a frontline Brexit department thanked staff for their work in preparing for a no-deal divorce from the EU.
But they added that “in common with the rest of government, we have stood down our no-deal operational planning with immediate effect”.
The letter goes on to say: “[On Thursday] morning, at a meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary, we agreed that the objective is to ensure we wind down our no-deal planning in a careful, considered and orderly way.”
That implies that the winding down of no-deal planning is taking place across government and is being co-ordinated from the highest levels.
Over the past two years, the government has spent £2bn on Brexit preparations and redeployed thousands of civil servants away from their normal jobs to work in no-deal related work.
It allocated a total of £4.2bn to plan for “Brexit preparations”, dealing with all scenarios, not just no-deal. Some of this work includes post-Brexit matters which will exist whether there is a deal or not, like customs changes and EU settled status.
Sky News understands these civil servants will be gradually returned to their home departments after the Easter break.
Staff working on no-deal contingencies have been instructed to leave their work in good order should it need to be resumed.
This revelation goes against the grain of comments from government ministers, including the Conservative Party’s deputy chairman James Cleverley.
Hours earlier, he had tweeted: “I’m going to keep working on our no-deal preparations in case we have to leave without one.”
A government spokesperson said: “As a responsible government, we’ve been preparing for over two years to minimise any disruption in the event of no deal.
“In light of this week’s developments, departments will make sensible decisions about the timing and pace at which some of this work is progressing given that the date we leave the EU has changed, but we will absolutely continue to make all necessary preparations.”
Political reaction from Brexiteers who wanted the government to use the Article 50 extension to October to step up no-deal preparations has been furious.
Of course, no deal never happening would have probably always been the case. But in the meantime the govt has spent £2bn on preparation which will never be needed on a bluff no-one believed, mainly just to please a few dozen Tory backbenchers. That’s about £60 per taxpayer.
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) April 11, 2019
Steve Baker, the eurosceptic deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, tweeted: “Sheer spite, I regret to say. Very sad. Officials have worked exceptionally hard to deliver our preparedness and deserve better.”
Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, described the move as “beyond stupid”.
And Crispin Blunt, the senior Tory backbencher, even said the matter might even provoke him to vote against the government in a no confidence vote.
The shelving of emergency planning for a no-deal Brexit includes the dismantling of Operation Brock on the M20 in Kent to deal with potential lorry tailbacks from Dover caused by new customs checks.
That decision was taken on Thursday at a meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, according to an email seen by Sky News.
The message – said to have been sent to all civil servants in an unnamed “front line Brexit department” – said the suspension was taking place with “immediate effect”.
It comes after Theresa May granted MPs two weeks of Easter recess, telling them to “reflect on the issues” in the hope they come back and pass a Brexit deal.
The prime minister told the Commons it had a “national duty” to pass a withdrawal agreement.
She promised that parallel compromise talks with Labour would be pursued in a “constructive and positive fashion” as officials from both parties continued their negotiations in Westminster.
Downing Street also hinted a Brexit deal could be put to vote imminently after MPs return to Westminster on 23 April.
Asked if Mrs May was preparing to bring back a meaningful vote on a Brexit deal soon, her spokesman told journalists at a briefing: “I think that’s a good way of describing our intentions.”
Meanwhile Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, headed to Brussels to pledge that its opposition to the withdrawal agreement “won’t diminish”.
As recess begins, the clock continues to tick down to European Parliament elections being held one month later.
Contingency plans have already been implemented for Britons to re-elect over 70 MEPs to the chamber in Strasbourg.
The Conservative Party has also declared it will field candidates in the election.