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Brexit: British government spent at least €5 billion preparing for leaving the EU

A member of protocol removes the Union flag from the atrium of the Europa building in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.
A member of protocol removes the Union flag from the atrium of the Europa building in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Copyright Olivier Hoslet/AP
Copyright Olivier Hoslet/AP
By Julie Gaubert
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UK government departments prepared for #Brexit planning for both a 'deal' and 'no deal' scenario, following the 2016 referendum. Here's the bill.


The UK's National Audit Office (NAO) has released a report showing that government departments spent at least £4.4 billion (€5.08 billion) preparing for the United Kingdom's exit.

In the 32-page report, published on Friday (March 6), the office said it had asked all 18 central government departments and two non-ministerial departments to provide information on the cost of preparation activities between the Brexit referendum in June 2016 and January 31, 2020, the day the United Kingdom left the European Union.

The main three areas the study focused on were on staff costs, cost of other expertise and external advice and cost of activities such as building new systems and infrastructure, or advertising and communications.

"Of the money spent, £1.9 billion was on staffing costs; £288 million on expertise and external advice; and £1.5 billion on activities such as building new systems and infrastructure," the report detailed.

£6.3 billion initially made available

All departments undertook work to prepare for the EU exit, but the scale of preparation and amount spent varied greatly between departments.

Following the June 2016 vote, departments prepared for two scenarios, planning for both a "deal" and a "no deal" outcome.

In a press release, head of the NAO Gareth Davies explained that they "planned for multiple potential outcomes, with shifting timetables and uncertainty."

"This report provides, for the first time, a clear picture of how much government has spent and what that money has been spent on," he continued.

Overall spending was broadly in line, as the Treasury made available £6.3 billion to cover the costs of leaving the European Union.

The report shows that departments "reported spending £1 billion less up to 31 January 2020 than their allocation for the 2019-20 financial year," which can be explained by the evolution of the situation and the growing certainty of a Brexit done.

"When the prospect of no deal diminished, spending was scaled down."

The report also recounts that over 22,000 staff were working on Brexit at the peak period in October 2019.

This included more than 1,500 people who were moved within government to prepare for a possible no-deal exit.

Some key facts from the NAO report, published on March 6, 2020NAO

What is the National Audit Office?

The NAO is an independent parliamentary body whose acts as the auditor of bodies funded directly by the British parliament.

It reports to the Comptroller and Auditor General, an officer in the House of Commons, and in turn, reports to the Public Accounts Committee.

It can either officiate through financial audits or Value For Money (VFM) audits. Its main purpose is to help the government make a better use of public money.

Additional sources • National Audit Office

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