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The government is planning a Brexit spending spree this year without any say by Parliament.
Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money will be spent setting up bodies to replace work done by the European Union some using a Whitehall wheeze devised by a Treasury mandarin to get round scrutiny by MPs.
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, is poised to be the first to use the new system to allow ministers to spend large sums of money on Brexit without the approval of Parliament.
Very simply the dodge involves turning on its head a procedure called an accounting direction – normally used when a senior mandarin -wants to challenge spending by a minister as illegal or questionable. It was most famously used when a senior civil servant questioned aid to pay for Malaysia’s Pergau Dam – when he discovered the money was being authorised by Margaret Thatcher as part of a secret defence deal. It was also used to question extra costs on the Millennium Dome under Tony Blair. More recently a civil servants challenged the government paying for a survey requested by a UKIP council in Kent.
Now Whitehall mandarin Richard Brown has devised a scheme which will allow ministers to get round Parliament by using the same procedure to spend money on Brexit without waiting for legislation to be passed by Parliament. The letter is here.
It has been sent to 25 ministerial departments, 20 non ministerial departments and over 300 agencies.
It followed a letter from the Treasury and the Department of Exiting the EU which also allowed ministries to raid the contingencies fund without waiting for laws to be passed.
Both senior civil servants are claiming that the requests for extra cash will be known to Parliament as they have informed the chairs pf the public accounts committee and the public administration committee. Some people might think that in all the huge coverage of Brexit they might be overlooked.
Today Civil Service World reports that a massive £245million has been routed by a supplementary estimate to spend money on Brexit with Michael Gove’s Defra department taking the lion’s share of £67m closely followed by HM Revenue and Customs with £47m and £42m for the Home Office to work out a new immigration system.
On top the permanent secretary of Defra, Clare Moriarty, has asked Michael Gove to approve £16m of cash for a whole series of projects without waiting for legislation.
The new national import control system for animals, animal products and high risk food and feed. Scheduled to commence building: mid-January 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £7m.
– Delivery of new IT capability to enable registration and regulation of chemical substances placed on the UK market. Scheduled to commence building: February 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £5.8m.
– Delivery of systems for the licensing and marketing of veterinary medicines. Scheduled to commence building: end-January 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £1.6m.
– Development of a new catch certificate system for UK fish and fish products being exported to the EU on Exit. Scheduled to commence: building end-January 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £1.0m.
– Development of a UK system to manage the quota of fluorinated gases and ozone depleting substances required under the UN Montreal Protocol. Scheduled to commence: March 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £0.5m.
– Development of data exchange arrangements to identify the movement of EU and third country vessels in UK waters and the movement of UK vessels in EU or third country waters. Scheduled to commence: April 2018. Estimated cost before Royal Assent: £0.1m
This gives a small glimpse of how complicated the change will be. One mistake and Britain could be thrown into chaos as it has relied on the EU for authorisation and will have to sign up for everything again , including international conventions.
Imagine what would happen if there are errors in the licensing of veterinary medicines for example. It could mean that it will be illegal for your pet to get the proper medicine from the vets.
Also it reveals that large sums of taxpayers money are going to have to go on new bureaucracies to administer all this. So where will be the Brexit dividend?
And all this is being pushed out ” under the counter” by mandarins and ministers. If the coverage of errors and waste endemic in Whitehall are anything to go by, Britain could easily face total chaos after 2019. It’s going to be a hell raising time as we leave the EU.