An influential committee of MPs has slammed the Department for Transport’s (DfT) ‘complacent’ contingency planning for a possible no-deal Brexit, accusing it of ‘a potentially toxic combination’ of secrecy and shortcomings.
In report on the DfT’s implementation of Brexit, the Public Accounts Committee said there is a real and increasing risk that the department will not be ready in the event of the UK departing the EU without a negotiated deal and a real prospect of major disruption at our ports.
The port of Dover from the air
PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘The future of road, rail, maritime and air access to Europe after Brexit remains unclear and the Department for Transport has a critical role in ensuring the UK is prepared.
‘With so little time remaining, there is still much to do. The risks associated with no-deal are severe, yet plans for avoiding disruption around major ports in particular are worryingly under-developed.’
She added: ‘The secrecy around the department’s preparations, and the shortcomings in assurance on its progress, are a potentially toxic combination.’
The DFT defended its use of non-disclosure agreements, which it said have been used to protect commercial interests of businesses and facilitate close working and open discussion between it and stakeholders.
A spokesperson said: 'We disagree with the committee’s conclusions, which are not accurate, and we are both disappointed and surprised that they have failed to reflect the evidence set out in the National Audit Office’s report, which found that the Department has made a determined effort in its preparations and achieved a great deal.'
In relation to no deal preparartions, MPs said the DfT had told it ‘that there is little, if any, contingency left to cope with slippage amongst the 28 internal projects it has underway’ adding that the DfT is ‘dependent upon decisions being taken elsewhere in government and on the state of discussions with other countries to progress some of its plans’.
MPs pointed out that while the DfT has plans to do some desk-based testing around Project Brock - designed to manage traffic and lorry-queuing at Dover - it has yet to carry them out.
The committee also said the department’s approach to its preparations ‘appears complacent’, and ‘its answers were short on detail and suggested a heavy reliance on assurance from officials in its arms-length bodies, such as Highways England with regard to Project Brock’.
It added: ‘We were left concerned that the Department remains prone to the optimism bias that we have witnessed on other projects overseen by this Department.'