London — The UK government is working on 313 separate programmes across all departments to prepare the country for Brexit, according to a study on Friday that revealed the extent to which Britain’s divorce from the EU is taking up civil service resources.
The programmes, or "work streams", range from designing replacements for EU funding programmes, such as under the Common Agricultural Policy, to devising regulatory regimes to replace tasks currently carried out by EU bodies, according to the report from the National Audit Office (NAO), the UK government’s spending watchdog.
They range from programmes that "require extensive work" to ones that are "less significant in size and complexity", it said.
The report is the most detailed assessment yet of the scale of the challenge the government faces in preparing Britain for Brexit as the clock ticks down toward its scheduled departure day in March 2019. The work is being undertaken at a time when the civil service has the lowest staffing levels since the 1940s.
"This document lays bare the daunting challenge faced by the civil service in co-ordinating Brexit," Meg Hillier, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker and chairwoman of the cross-party Committee of Public Accounts, said in a statement e-mailed with the NAO study.
"I question whether Whitehall has the ability to deliver the 313 projects and hundreds of new laws it says are needed. There is a risk that anything non-Brexit related will be neglected."
The divorce already dominates the legislative programme outlined in June by Prime Minister Theresa May’s accounting for eight of the 27 bills announced for the next two years. And the Brexit department estimates that between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments — a form of secondary legislation requiring less scrutiny — will be needed before Brexit.
The work streams are spread unevenly among government departments, ranging from 69 for the department for business, energy and industrial strategy, to two for the attorney-general’s office. The department for environment, food and rural affairs has 43 programmes, and the department of health 31.
While the UK treasury has told departments to work within their existing budgets, it has allocated £250m ($330m) of additional money for the 2017-18 tax year to cope with the extra burden caused by the Brexit work load.