MPs query Defra’s Brexit resources

19th January 2017

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Kenneth Leung

MPs doubt that the environment department (Defra) has the resources it needs to deal with the workload associated with the UK's departure from the EU.

Publishing the results of its inquiry into the impact of Brexit on the environment, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said staff and funding cuts in recent years had reduced Defra’s capacity significantly. This had disproportionately affected the parts of the department involved in negotiations to leave the EU and design future policy.

‘We are unconvinced that the department has sufficient resources to manage the much larger workload faced as a result of the referendum decision. The government must urgently examine the Defra resource necessary to deliver its environmental objectives for exiting the EU,’ the report states.

In a letter to the commiteee, environment minister Thérèse Coffey (pictured) said Defra had launched a recruitment drive to deal with the workload expected from the Brexit process.

Senior positions had been filled, and the number of staff seconded to the Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU) was small, she said. Defra is now recruiting seven deputy directors to work on Brexit, according to advertisements on the Civil Service’s job website.

A report published in December from the Institute for Government think tank pointed out that Defra’s budget was 17% smaller than in 2010, and will be almost 35% smaller by March 2019. It warned that job cuts would result in a failure to deliver existing commitments or to plan properly for Brexit.

The EAC also called for a new environmental protection Act to be passed before the UK leaves the EU to plug any gaps left by the Great Repeal Bill.

During the inquiry, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom had told MPs that one-third of more than 800 pieces of environmental legislation could not be simply copied and pasted into UK law.

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