...As Foreign Office war games No Deal
THERESA May’s own diplomats have written off the chance of her striking a deal with Brussels and are planning for Brexit to be delayed – and the chaos of No Deal.
With Mrs May facing defeat in t he Commons, senior Foreign Office officials held a series of meetings over the past week to ‘wargame’ their political strategy.
According to a detailed account of the meetings, the Prime Minister’s own diplomats ‘held their heads in their hands’ as they set out the likely passage of events. Concluding the Government was now in full ‘crisis mode’, the officials decided:
A No Deal is now the ‘ default planning mode’;
It is now regarded within Whitehall as ‘highly likely’ that we will still be in the EU after the supposed Brexit Day of March 29, with an extension of Article 50 now the most probable outcome;
Up to 20 per cent of Foreign Office staff – 2,800 out of 14,000 – are to be removed from front l i ne work and t ransferred to Brexit duties;
All ‘proactive policy-making’ is to be placed on hold.
The source painted an extraordinary picture of a Government that has been paralysed by the political drama playing out in the Commons. ‘There were many heads in hands around the tables – gallows humour prevailed,’ the source said.
‘The situation was described by a very senior civil servant as amateur hour with bells on.’
The source added: ‘The Government is now effectively in crisis mode. With up to one fifth of FCO staff being withdrawn from frontline work, the ring-fencing of key priorities means that some departments will face bigger staff losses.
‘There is no clarity on what the policy is, but No Deal is now the default planning assumption.
‘The second-level assumption is that Brexit will not happen on March 29. But in truth no one has any idea what to do or what to expect if the deal is rejected.
‘All proactive policy-making is on hold, as f orward planning against such uncertainty is recognised as impossible.’
Officials in Education, Justice and Welfare have also been asked to take up new roles within weeks.
The secondments are expected to last at least six months. Jonathan Slater, permanent secretary at the Department for Education, told staff the priority was ensuring ‘key services continue to operate’ but other areas of the department’s work were likely to be mothballed.