Belfast Telegraph

Brexit plans may collapse in ‘chocolate orange style’

By Sam Lister

The head of the public spending watchdog has hit out at failures in government leadership over Brexit and raised fears about "vague" exit plans in Whitehall.

In unusually robust comments, Sir Amyas Morse said ministers were not delivering a unified front in dealing with the challenges of quitting the EU and warned the response could fall apart like a "chocolate orange" at the first tap.

The National Audit Office head said there was "very little flexibility" in plans for a new customs system and the department in charge was not being given the support it needed to put strong backup plans in place.

Speaking to reporters in London, he said it would be a "horror show" if officials were forced to manually process imports and exports.

The chief auditor said he "wouldn't be speaking like this" if he believed the coordinated support needed across government to deal with Brexit was in place.

Sir Amyas said the Government could take more action to cut the risk of the customs system not being ready on the day Britain quits the bloc, but appeared to be easing off on the risks of Brexit.

He warned "active, energetic" support for Whitehall departments was needed but suggested they were being left to their own devices to see how they got on.

"There's a real challenge," he said.

"Can government actually step up in these very difficult circumstances and deliver a unified response? I'm not seeing it yet."

Sir Amyas said he had "expressed interest" to Brexit Secretary David Davis and officials at the Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) in seeing a report on the overall preparedness across government, but the response had been "vague".

The NAO boss said he was not seeing evidence of strong integration and warned it would be "very second best" to respond when problems occurred instead of planning for them in advance.

"It would be nice to anticipate and plan for all this beforehand," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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