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Fears May Will Scrap Brexit Department for Being Too Pro-Brexit

Brexit Secretary David Davis
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty
LIAM DEACON

The Prime Minister is suspected of moving to sideline or even abolish the Brexit department, because it is too openly pro-Brexit, as the Brexit secretary warns her against abandoning a clean exit from the bloc and pushing to stay tied to its rules.

David Davis, the Brexit secretary, was Wednesday night leading a last-minute push by senior Tory eurosceptics to talk Theresa May out of backing a “third way” Brexit that would keep the UK locked in a customs union and single market with the European Union (EU).

The cabinet is meeting Friday at Chequers, where ministers are expected to attempt to make a decision on the issue.

Mr Davis has sent a letter, reports The Telegraph, setting out his opposition to Mrs May’s plan, after EU sources said they will reject it as soon as detail emerged in the press earlier this week, despite the Prime Minister offering further concessions on financial services.

The Brexit minister is said to be angry that Mrs May and her adviser, Olly Robbins, have not acknowledged the EU’s position and the fact they will not let the UK police its own border when it is in a market or customs union with the bloc.

The developments come as reports in The Times claim Mrs May has set up a shadow Brexit unit amid speculation inside Whitehall that the Brexit department and its leader, Mr Davis, are too pro-Brexit and not neutral enough to satisfy other ministers.

The Department for Exiting the EU could be abolished next March, and responsibility for co-ordinating Brexit shifted to the Cabinet Office, the paper adds.

One Whitehall source said that other departments did not see the Brexit department as an “honest broker” and a former minister said civil servants do not trust Mr Davis’s department to manage preparations.

The new, rival unit reports to the chief executive of the civil service John Manzoni and is headed up by Matthew Coats, the former chief operating officer at the Ministry of Justice.

Reports claim it is overseeing border contingency planning and the creation of a British database of shipments of live animals and animal products.

“Their job is to identify the riskiest projects and then do ‘deep dives’ to make sure that the things departments say are happening really are,” the former minister told The Times.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said that the unit worked very closely with Mr Davis’s department “and across government” but had “no responsibility for determining policy”.

The Brexit Department claimed it still had “oversight and coordination” of all Brexit planning.

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