The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has asked every one of her Cabinet ministers to come up with a plan to make the most of Britain’s exit from the European Union. The request comes amidst concern that senior civil servants are attempting to derail the process.
Ministers will be expected to present action plans for how their department can make the most of the opportunities Brexit offers, when they meet at Chequers – the Prime Minister’s country residence – this week, the Sunday Telegraph has reported.
According to No. 10 sources, the meeting will allow ministers to “discuss the next steps in the negotiations”, as May attempts to give momentum to the decision, made by the British people on June 23, to leave the EU.
It comes as senior government sources have privately complained that senior civil servants in the Treasury and Foreign office frustrated the process in the weeks following the vote. One insider said that civil servants were “miffed” at having to play a role in taking the UK out of the EU, adding: “A lot of these people are institutionally wedded to the status quo.”
The former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell has added to fears of a stitch up, by warning that Brexit was “not inevitable” because of the amount of time it would take. He suggested there was no rush to start the exit negotiations, and that by the time they had played out the EU may have shaken out into a “broader, more loosely aligned group … that the UK is happy being a member of”.
Conservative MPs have called for a firm hand with civil servants who attempt to stall Brexit. Steve Baker MP, who chaired the pro-Brexit Conservatives for Britain group during referendum, said: “Any official working to oppose our exit from the EU should be summarily fired. If necessary, emergency legislation should be passed to make it possible.”
Meanwhile Iain Duncan-Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, has pointed out that it’s not just civil servants who have been attempting to thwart the Brexit process. “Never a day goes by when the BBC can’t find something miserable to say about Brexit,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.
He added that broadcasters and senior politicians alike had been downbeat about Britain’s future post-Brexit as they were “locked” into the idea of remaining within the EU.
“The Remain campaign was complacent, patronising and a touch arrogant and I think the reaction afterwards has been all of those things,” he said.
“The complacency has now gone but you’re left very much with a renewed arrogance about this. I want to see the Government step up and say we don’t think this is a problem at all, we think this is a phenomenal opportunity.”
Outlining how his former department could make the most of Brexit, he called on the government to set up a quota system for unskilled migrant workers, and for it to do more to help British people gain the skills they need for employment.
Calling for a system similar to the American Green Card, he said: “The question should always be asked, are there people in the UK who can do this job? You start with the premise that you want to employ people here so you need to advertise the job here.
“I set up this thing called Universal Job Match and all the people at the DWP who fall unemployed are put on to that and there is a CV in there that has all their skill levels so at the push of a button the DWP is able to figure out in their areas who has what skills and who is unemployed.”
Warning that some employers were by-passing government-run employment centres and instead directly advertising vacancies abroad as they knew they could pay lower wages to foreign workers, he said Theresa May must implement measures to bring net immigration down to the tens of thousands.
He said: “It’s like having the front door shut and the back door wide open … now you get to regulate both doors and that’s why the best way to do it is through a work permit process and ensuring that those that come do so after it’s clear that there are no British people around that can do that job at that skill level. You focus more at the lower-skilled areas.”