NAO Report Summary

1.  In March 2019, the UK is set to leave the EU. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is one of the government departments most affected by EU Exit.

2.  Defra’s portfolio is very varied, covering the chemical and agri-food industries as well as crucial policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment. In common with other government departments, it has organised its portfolio into individual ‘work streams’. With 55 work streams and 4 cross-cutting and co-ordinating activities, it has the second largest number of work streams of any department. In addition, it has to draft a large volume of legislation, contribute to the government’s negotiations and work closely with the devolved administrations.

3.  Following the March 2018 Council of the European Commission, Defra changed the focus of its EU Exit planning to take account of the implementation period that was agreed at that meeting. For many of its work streams, Defra put its contingency plans for a no-deal scenario on hold, while increasing contingency where there is a risk to life, health or security. It is now organising its preparations around a range of different scenarios, including exit without a deal in March 2019, and a negotiated exit with an implementation period lasting until 2020. 

Statement from the Comptroller and Auditor General   Defra faces an enormous challenge and has an unprecedented portfolio of work that it needs to deliver for EU Exit. This report is intended as an objective document of record about Defra’s progress towards ‘a smooth and orderly exit’. Given the scale of the task and the speed at which Defra is having to tackle it, there are inevitably gaps in the Department’s approach and risks to its progress that I am obliged to point out. But I do so while recognising that these are not normal times for Defra or for the government as a whole and acknowledging that Defra has already achieved a great deal in its preparations for EU Exit.

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