A Whitehall memo leaked on Tuesday appeared to confirm what many allege – that the Theresa May government does not yet have a strategy to leave the European Union, and its refusal to spell out details is because it does not have a plan.
The Cabinet Office memo dated November 7, leaked to The Times, claims the bureaucracy is struggling to cope with the scale of work generated by the June 23 vote by Britons to exit the EU and the lack of a common strategy among cabinet ministers.
The government promptly rubbished the memo reportedly prepared by a consultant, saying it “did not recognise” it.
The leak appeared within hours of Prime MinisterTheresa May setting out an optimistic case for a post-Brexit Britain in the Lord Mayor's banquet speech at Guildhall on Monday night.
According to the memo, departments were working on more than 500 projects related to leaving the EU and may need to hire an extra 30,000 civil servants to deal with the additional burden of work.
The Times reported the memo also identified a tendency by May to “draw in decisions and settle matters herself” as a strategy that cannot be sustained, and highlighted a split between the three Brexit ministers – Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis – and the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and his ally Greg Clark, the business secretary.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling, a member of the government’s Brexit cabinet committee, said he had no idea where the report had come from and denied it had been commissioned by ministers.
“The process is complex but by no means the challenge that is set out in today’s newspaper story. I have a team of people in my department who are working with David Davis on issues like aviation, but I do not see the scale of the challenge that is in today’s newspaper,” he told BBC.
Asked if the government is planning to hire 30,000 civil servants to cope with the extra pressures of the negotiations, Grayling said: “I have not seen anything to suggest that is the case. We have got people in my department (and) in other departments working with the Brexit department. I don’t know what 30,000 extra people would do.”
A government spokesman said: “This is not a government report and we don’t recognise the claims made in it. We are focused on getting on with the job of delivering Brexit and making a success of it.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the leaked report showed a “shambles at the heart of government” over the direction of Brexit. “It’s time for the prime minister to stop being led astray by her warring cabinet,” he said.
“Otherwise her government is heading for the worst possible outcome: a reckless, destructive Brexit that will do untold damage to British jobs and the economy.”