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Civil Service

How the Civil Service has prepared for exiting the EU

Head and shoulders of Matthew Coats in blue shirt
Matthew Coats, Director General for EU Exit Implementation

For over two years, the Civil Service has worked intensively on preparations for the UK to  withdraw successfully from the European Union.

This has been a highly complex undertaking, involving all government departments to a greater or lesser extent. Today, 14,500 civil servants – and many thousands more across the wider public sector – are involved in EU-exit-related work.

This has ranged from the high-profile negotiation of a Withdrawal Agreement to the equally important responsibility of making sure our public services are readied for the changes that will be made as we leave the EU.

As well as the officials who have travelled back and forth between London and Brussels to support the withdrawal negotiations, civil servants have worked on around 300 separate work streams, contacted 145,000 businesses, advising them of 'no deal' customs procedures, and have published 106 Technical Notices and over 100 pages of guidance on border processes and procedures in the event of 'no deal'. And they have brought forward essential legislation to take account of different scenarios, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act itself.

The Cabinet Secretary, the Chief Executive of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretaries across Government are clear that  the Civil Service has to be at its best to make sure we are ready to leave. I am far from alone in believing that the Civil Service has risen to the challenge.

The Government’s preferred outcome is that we leave with a deal. However, it is only sensible to be prepared for the difficulties that would result from leaving the EU without a deal. In the past six months, the Civil Service has focused on preparing for this eventuality.

The work of the Civil Service saves and improves lives, so planning for EU exit, understanding the potential impact and putting effective measures in place, is of prime importance. One effect of the responsibility to prepare has been to spur organisation and collaboration across government and between departments, agencies and the wider public sector.

We have been equipping ourselves with the right people and the right skills to make all of this happen. The cross-government functions and professions, including digital, commercial, project, communications, policy operations, and HR, are all playing a vital part in supporting departments so that experts and specialists can focus on priority EU exit planning.  

There are many great examples of this.

There is the work at the Department for Health & Social Care to ensure UK stockpiles of medicines are adequate to cope with any potential delays.  The Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have developed opportunities for new relationships and networks across the world. And the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), which is heavily impacted by EU exit, has a large portfolio of programmes to ensure a strong future for our environmental protection regulations, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries, and animal and plant health. I could cite many more examples.

Colleagues have been working day and night to make sure the UK can leave the EU with or without a deal in place. I hope each of you knows how grateful the leadership of the Civil Service is for your professionalism and dedication to getting the job done. It is recognised by the Cabinet Secretary and by ministers – as well as by parliamentarians on all sides of the debate.

The Civil Service has put its full weight behind this endeavour. It is a collective challenge, and is being met with a committed and collaborative effort.

I am proud of how we have pulled together, and see evidence every day of constructive working across departmental boundaries – civil servants doing what is right for the country and the public we serve.

If EU exit preparations show anything, it is that the Civil Service is unwavering in its commitment to working for the government of the day, whatever the task put before it.

You can follow Matthew Coats on Twitter: @MatthewCCoats1

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  1. Comment by Simon posted on

    If we can only get the general public, anti-Brexit media, and the House of Commons to understand that planning is at an advanced stage to cope with a No Deal Brexit!

    How about working on the communications for that next? It would give this Government more scope for exiting the EU in the manner that the majority of this country's citizens desire according to latest polls.

    And as Dan (see above) suggests, it would only be fitting to reward loyal civil servants with a pay rise sitting a level above derisory which has remained the position for many years now.

  2. Comment by Dan Ingreji posted on

    As a civil servant of nearly 38 years and someone who has worked on EU Exit for more than two years now, I have been proud to be a part of a civil service, which I deem to be the best in the world. Indeed, after years of sniping by some politicians, it was heartening to hear the Leader of the House of Commons (Andrea Leadsom) state: “My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent work of the civil service, who have spent the last two and a half years above and beyond the call of duty—so many of them focused on delivering on the referendum. That is something to be proud of.”
    My only regret is seeing my fellow civil servants suffering financially after years of pay restraint on the back of austerity, including yet again being offered a 1% payrise. I certainly hope that both Sir Mark Sedwill and Matthew Coates deem it fit to make appropriate representations on our behalf and further demonstrate the value of a fairly paid, committed and independent civil service, as I see too many of my colleagues eyeing the exit signs.

  3. Comment by Sandra Armstrong posted on

    Excellent article Matthew and shows what can be achieved when we put our galvanise around a shared endeavour - well done to all your teams and colleagues who are especially in the thick of things!

  4. Comment by Mark posted on

    Will Brexit ever happen though? At least someone has made plans for it.